Thursday, January 20, 2011

Against “neurobabble”

Every written token of the English word “soup” is made up of marks which look at least vaguely like “s,” “o,” “u,” and “p.”  Of course, it doesn’t follow that the word “soup” is identical to any collection of such marks, or that its properties supervene on the material properties of such marks, or that it can be explained entirely in terms of the material properties of such marks.  Everyone who considers the matter knows this.

To borrow an example from psychologist Jerome Kagan, “as a viewer slowly approaches Claude Monet's painting of the Seine at dawn there comes a moment when the scene dissolves into tiny patches of color.”  But it doesn’t follow that its status and qualities as a painting reduce to, supervene upon, or can be explained entirely in terms of the material properties of the color patches.  Everyone who considers the matter knows this too.

Somehow, though, when neuroscientists discover some neural correlate of this or that mental event or process, a certain kind of materialist concludes that the mind’s identity with, or supervenience upon, or reducibility to, or complete explanation in terms of neural processes is all but a done deal, and that the reservations of non-materialists are just so much intellectually dishonest bad faith.  In a recent online op-ed piece for The New York Times, and in an apt phrase, philosopher of mind Tyler Burge criticizes this tendency as “neurobabble,” which produces only “the illusion of understanding.”  For it is as fallacious as any parallel argument about words or paintings would be.

Now one source of neurobabble is the standard but false materialist assumption that the only dualistic alternatives to a “naturalistic” account of the mind are either Cartesian substance dualism or property dualism, with their attendant interaction problem.  To be sure, and as I have noted many times, materialists often deeply misunderstand even these forms of dualism (or at least Cartesian dualism) and direct their objections at crude straw men.  [For some examples, see this post on Daniel Stoljar, and my four-part series of posts on Paul Churchland, here, here, here, and here.  For discussion of the shallowness of materialist arguments in general, see this post on Frank Jackson and this post on (the non-shallow) Noam Chomsky.]

Still, from an Aristotelian-Thomistic (A-T) point of view, even Cartesian dualism is a modernist error, the “evil twin” of materialism.  It exaggerates the divide between mind and matter, even as materialism exaggerates their affinity.  (For A-T, many modern positions are “evil twins” in this sense – rationalism and empiricism, libertarianism and socialism, Kantian deontology and utilitarianism, and so on – each removing a genuine insight from the classical metaphysical framework in which it makes sense and then twisting it into a grotesque caricature of itself by ignoring the opposite, balancing insight.  I’ve been meaning to write up a post on that theme, but it is addressed at least indirectly in The Last Superstition.)

The A-T approach is what David Oderberg has called “hylemorphic dualism.”   Unlike Cartesian dualism, which regards a human being as a composite of two substances, res cogitans and res extensa, hylemorphic dualism regards a human being as a single substance.  But unlike materialism, which tends to regard material substances as reducible to their component parts and which is wedded to a mechanistic conception of matter that denies the reality of formal and final causes, hylemorphic dualism is non-reductionist, and regards human beings, like all material substances, as composites of form and matter.  (The view is non-reductionist despite regarding material substances as composed of form and matter, because it does not reduce them to form and matter.  A tree, for example, is a composite of a certain kind of form and matter, but the form and matter themselves cannot be made sense of apart from the tree of which they form metaphysical parts.  The analysis is holistic.) 

“Soul” on this view is just a technical term for the form of the living body.  And the view is dualist, not because it affirms the existence of the soul (plants and non-human animals have forms, and thus “souls,” but are purely material) but rather because it takes human beings to have certain special capacities that do not involve a material organ – namely, their intellectual capacities.  There is no “interaction problem” for hylemorphic dualism, though, because the soul is not (as it is for Descartes) a distinct substance which needs somehow to get into contact with a material substance via efficient causation; it is rather only a part of a complete substance – the formal cause of the substance, of which the matter composing the body is the material cause.  The relationship between soul and body is therefore not like that of two billiard balls, one of them ghostly, which have to find a way somehow to knock into one another.  It is more like the relationship between the shape of a triangle drawn on paper and the ink which has taken on the shape – two aspects of one thing, rather than two things.  Or it is like the relationship between the meaning of a word and the letters that make up the word, or the relationship between the pictorial content of a painting and the splotches of color that make up the painting.  (Probably most of my readers will be familiar with these ideas, but for those who are not, I have spelled them out in more detail in many other places, most fully in chapter 4 of Aquinas.)

One problem with many claims made for materialist reductionism, then, is that they rest on a conception of part-to-whole relations in material substances that is (on the A-T view) false across the board, not merely where the mind-brain relationship is concerned.  It is false to say that a tree is “nothing but” a collection of roots, trunk, leaves, sap, etc., even though a tree does of course have such parts.  It is false to say that a triangle is “nothing but” the ink particles that make up its lines, that a word is “nothing but” the material marks that comprise its tokens, or that a painting is “nothing but” the color patches that the painter has put on canvas, even though these objects also have the parts in question.  And it is false to say that the mind is “nothing but” a collection of neural processes, even though neural processes do indeed underlie all of our mental activities.  (You don’t have to be an A-T theorist to see this, by the way.  See M. R. Bennett and P. M. S. Hacker, Philosophical Foundations of Neuroscience for a thorough critique of the conceptually sloppy and fallacious thinking that permeates much philosophical and “scientific” discussion about the brain.)

Now, since A-T is committed to a kind of dualism, albeit of the hylemorphic variety – and since, in particular, it holds that intellectual operations have no bodily organ – it might sound surprising that I should say that “neural processes do indeed underlie all of our mental activities.”  But that is indeed exactly what the hylemorphic dualist claims.  The reason is this.  Keep in mind first of all that A-T regards sensation and imagination – those “mental” phenomena we have in common with lower animals, and which are characterized by what contemporary philosophers call “qualia” – as corporeal or bodily in nature, and in that sense entirely material.  To be sure, A-T has a different conception of matter than materialists do.  For example, A-T does not hold that the only properties of matter are those described by the modern physicist.  But the relevant point for present purposes is that A-T does not regard sensation and imagination per se as involving any sort of immaterial organs or properties, anything that survives the death of the body, or anything that distinguishes us from the brutes.

What does distinguish us from the brutes and entails immateriality is our grasp of concepts or universal ideas.  One reason conceptual thought cannot be material is that concepts and the thoughts that feature them are abstract and universal, while material objects and processes are inherently concrete and particular; another is that concepts and the thoughts that feature them are (at least sometimes) exact, determinate, and unambiguous while material objects and processes are inherently inexact, indeterminate, and ambiguous when they are associated with conceptual content at all.   There are other reasons too.  (These are issues I have addressed many times.  For a more detailed treatment, see chapters 6 and 7 of Philosophy of Mind and, again, chapter 4 of Aquinas.  Some relevant blog posts of mine can be found here and here.  And see also James Ross’s article “Immaterial Aspects of Thought” and David Oderberg’s article “Concepts, Dualism, and the Human Intellect.”)

All the same, given that the soul of which intellect is one of the powers is of its nature oriented to the body, of which it is the form, the human intellect – unlike the intellects of angels, which are akin to Cartesian immaterial substances – requires bodily activity as a necessary condition of its ordinary operation, even if it is not a sufficient condition.  For one thing, it requires that there be sense organs to generate the sensations from which “phantasms” or mental images can be derived, from which in turn the intellect can abstract concepts.   But it also (and more to the present point) requires that there be organs capable of generating phantasms or images even after sensation has ceased; that is to say, it requires the neurological processes underlying imagination.  For even though our concept of a triangle (for example) is not and cannot be identified with any image of a triangle – such an image will always have features that the concept lacks, will strictly apply only to some triangles while the concept applies to all, might be vague in certain respects, and so forth – we are nevertheless incapable of entertaining the concept of a triangle without at the same time forming an image of some sort (a mental picture of a triangle, or of the look or sound of the word “triangle,” or whatever).  

A useful analogy would be Frege’s conception of the relationship between propositions and sentences.  A proposition cannot be identified with a sentence; for instance, the proposition that snow is white cannot be identified with the English sentence “Snow is white,” because someone who spoke German rather than English could express the very same proposition by using the sentence “Schnee ist weiss.”  But neither can it be identified with any other sentence or collection of sentences, since the proposition that snow is white was true before any language came into existence, and would remain true even if every language went out of existence.  In short, propositions are not linguistic entities.  All the same, they cannot be grasped by us except by means of linguistic entities.  The proposition that snow is white is not identical with “Snow is white” or “Schnee ist weiss,” but you cannot entertain it without entertaining either one of those sentences, or a sentence of some other language.  As Frege put it in his classic paper “The Thought”: “The thought, in itself immaterial, clothes itself in the material garment of a sentence and thereby becomes comprehensible to us.”  (Frege is using “thought” here to refer to a proposition, i.e. to the content of a “thought” in the mentalistic sense of the term.)

Now unlike Frege, Aristotle and Aquinas are not Platonic realists.  But they are moderate realists, and they would affirm something like Frege’s basic point.  Not only the propositions we grasp in having thoughts, but the thoughts themselves, are immaterial and distinct from any visual or auditory images we might form of particular sentences.  But we nevertheless find it impossible to entertain a proposition, and thus to have a thought, without also forming either images of sentences or some other imagery.  And in the view of Aristotle and Aquinas, all imagery is, as I have said, bodily and thus material.  As Aquinas concludes in Book I, chapter 2 of his Commentary on Aristotle’s De Anima, “since one cannot have imagery without a material organ, it seems clear that there can be no intellectual operation without the cooperation of matter” (as translated by Robert Brennan at p. 192 of his Thomistic Psychology).

Hence the A-T theorist affirms that there will always be some material correlate to normal human intellectual activity – not as a reluctant concession forced on the theory by the successes of modern neuroscience, but, on the contrary, precisely as a prediction of the A-T position as it has been understood from the beginning.  Were Aristotle and Aquinas to be made familiar with the sorts of neuroscientific discoveries frantically trumpeted by materialists as if they should be an embarrassment to the dualist, they would respond, with a shrug: “Of course.  Told you so.”

What A-T denies, again, is that the neurological level of description, however necessary, can ever suffice to account for intellectual activity.  There will always in principle be some slack between the neuroscientific facts and the facts about the content of our thoughts – something even materialists like W. V. Quine and Donald Davidson have affirmed on philosophical grounds, and psychologists like Kagan have affirmed on empirical grounds.  For A-T, the main reason, as I have said, has to do with the contrast between the determinate and universal character of conceptual thought and the particular and indeterminate nature of material processes – see Ross’s article, linked to above, for an especially powerful presentation of this point.

This, incidentally, is why the A-T theorist is untroubled by the neuroscientific evidence for the possibility in principle of “mindreading,” which sometimes gets attention in the popular press.  Invariably, we are told that at least certain kinds of mental states can be “read off” the neurological evidence with a degree of accuracy that is both surprisingly high and yet considerably less than absolute.  For A-T, this is exactly what we should expect.  If a “phantasm” or image is material, so that we can in principle determine neurologically that you are entertaining such-and-such phantasms, then the circumstances under which you are doing so might make it likely that you are also entertaining thoughts of the sort typically associated with such phantasms.  But likelihood is the most we can ever attain given the slack between phantasms or imagery on the one hand, and conceptual content on the other – especially when the conceptual content abstracts considerably from anything we can imagine, as it does when we are thinking about matters far removed from what we can directly experience.

The fact is that Aristotelian-Thomistic hylemorphic dualism is the theory most clearly consistent with all of the philosophical and neuroscientific evidence.  Cartesian dualism is not refuted by such evidence, but it has to resort to arguably ad hoc measures in order to avoid certain difficulties (the interaction problem, the fact that we are sometimes completely unconscious, and so forth).  And there is absolutely nothing in the neuroscientific evidence to support reductive versions of materialism over against either property dualism or A-T.  In arguments for preferring materialistic reductionism to these dualist alternatives, all the work is being done by metaphysical and methodological assumptions rather than by empirical evidence – by bogus appeals to Ockham’s razor, say, or to the illusion that “everything else has been explained in materialist terms.”  (I say that the appeal to Ockham’s razor is in this context bogus, because the main arguments for dualism are not probabilistic “explanatory hypotheses” to which considerations of parsimony are relevant; they are, instead, attempts at strict metaphysical demonstration.  See the posts on Churchland linked to above for more on this issue.  And I say that the claim that “everything else has been explained in materialist terms” is an illusion for reasons set out here, here, and in the posts on Jackson and Chomsky linked to above.) 

Of course, property dualists, like A-T theorists, perceive that the mental and neurological levels of description are much closer than Cartesian dualists suppose; while non-reductive materialists like Davidson at least perceive that they are not as close as reductive materialists suppose.  But each of these views still suffers from analogues of the problems facing the more extreme versions of dualism and materialism.  For example, they both face the problem of epiphenomenalism, which follows upon their common “mechanistic” insistence that all causation be understood on the model of efficient causation.  Hylemorphic dualism is the true mean between the extremes, a view that has the advantages of the others without their difficulties.

So why are its virtues not more widely recognized?  The usual reasons:  There is, first of all, the average contemporary academic philosopher’s unfamiliarity with what the ancients and medievals really thought.  Second, there is the dogmatic, ideological status that the early moderns’ “mechanistic” revolution – their denial of Aristotelian formal and final causes – has taken on in modern intellectual life, bolstered by the wholly unmerited prestige that revolution has inherited from the successes of empirical science.  (See The Last Superstition for the details.)  And third, there is the equally dogmatic, equally ideological naturalism that sustains itself on the backs of the first two factors.  As Burge has written in another context:

The flood of projects over the last two decades that attempt to fit mental causation or mental ontology into a ‘naturalistic picture of the world’ strike me as having more in common with political or religious ideology than with a philosophy that maintains perspective on the difference between what is known and what is speculated.  Materialism is not established, or even clearly supported, by science.  (“Mind-Body Causation and Explanatory Practice,” in John Heil and Alfred Mele, eds., Mental Causation, at p. 117)

225 comments:

1 – 200 of 225   Newer›   Newest»
Greg said...

I've never understood why the "you're nothing but brain chemistry" argument ever gets passed the performative contradiction of asserting it. If consciousness is just an epiphenomenon of neurotransmitter pathways, why are you able to argue with the expectation of changing someone's opinion? And why is there such a massive appetite for clearly garbage studies that assert this in pop science rags?

David said...

Dr. Feser,

I notice you are careful to qualify the dependence of the intellect on phantasms as applicable to "normal" human intellectual activity. Is this because of the possibility of the direction infusion of knowledge into the intellect by God (without a phantasm), or is there some other non-normal intellectual mode you have in mind?

Alyosha said...

Dear Greg,

I believe you have not really understood our position well, see. Ooops sorry that I must return back to the old and ancient folk psychology way of speaking, but you see (I mean by "see" that the light waves enter your eyes and activate the neural process and so on)by "believe" and by "mean" I mean nothing more than neural process also. It is all high brow stuff, you see(again refer to the correct phrase up there). Please do not ram your ancient philosophy down our thought (again I mean nothing more than neural process). All the problems that you list will be solved in the future and I hope (again nothing more than neural process) by next two or decades or so.

Anonymous said...

>All the problems that you list will be solved in the future and I hope (again nothing more than neural process) by next two or decades or so.

Yeh good luck with that bit of eschatology. You will need it.

Blue Devil Knight said...

Critical comments on the Burge piece here. Will have to read the rest of this post later, just wanted to point out how the neurocentric might respond to Burge's piece.

Blue Devil Knight said...

(Just for full disclosure, it is me at that link complaining about the Burge piece, but not using my chess blog pseudonym).

Blue Devil Knight said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Blue Devil Knight said...

To help me understand this, is there reference to a clearly articulated, noncontroversial prototypical instance of formal cause that helps illustrate the idea? One that upon seing it, the ignorant like me would be like "Oh, that's really helpful I was big time lacking in my understanding of causality, and this fills an obvious gap. Formal causes are the best!"


Or something like that.

I tend to be sympathetic to the antiCartesian rhetoric of hylemorphic dualism, but have yet to see it articulated in a way that distinguishes it empirically from sophisticated materialism. I say that noting I have never seen it articulated very clearly period.

But please don't sidetrack on that, if anyone responds to this, please I'm after a single clear example of formal causality. A well articulated case in which it is clearly helpful and contrasts with efficient causality (I noticed the triangle drawing examples here, perhaps someone will take that up as the canon).

BenYachov said...

According to the Wikipedia QUOTE" Formal cause is a term describing the pattern or form which when present makes substance into a particular type of thing, which we recognize as being of that particular type.

By Aristotle's own account, this is a difficult and controversial concept to try to describe as a cause. It is associated with theories of forms such as that of Aristotle's teacher and friend, Plato, but in Aristotle's own account in his Metaphysics, he takes into account many previous writers who had expressed opinions about forms and ideas, and he distinguishes his thoughts from all of them."END QUOTE

My example the form of roundness or being round causes a ball to be a sphere.

I don't think that will help but it's a start.

Edward Feser said...

David,

Yes, that's what I had in mind.

Blue Devil Knight,

Perhaps I'm misunderstanding you, but it seems that you are asking for something like an empirical confirmation of formal cause -- a case where its use best accounts for the data, or has proved fruitful to research, or some such. Is that right?

If so, then before addressing that, we need to make a distinction. A-T philosophers usually distinguish between natural science on the one hand and the philosophy of nature on the other. Philosophy of nature is essentially concerned with general metaphysical questions about how it is possible for there to be an empirical world of the sort we experience in the first place. Its results are held to be necessary rather than contingent. Natural science is concerned instead with the details of how the actual world happens to work. It's results are contingent, at least in one sense. (I'll explain that qualification in a moment.)

So, for example, the Aristotelian theory of act and potency is a paradigm example of philosophy of nature. Its aim is to explain what makes it possible for there to be a world of changing things at all, contra the claims of philosophers like Parmenides and Zeno. Whatever substances happen to exist in the empirical world -- that is to say, whatever the scientific facts turn out to be -- they will all be composites of act and potency. That is a presupposition of there being any empirical world for scientists to study in the first place. So, it is not the sort of thing that could meaningfully be refuted by empirical science; it is subject only to philosophical analysis and criticism.

The periodic table of elements, by contrast, is a finding of natural science, and tells us how the actual world happens to be. But it could have been different; the elements could have been other than the ones we find are correctly described by the table. So we need to rely on careful empirical investigation to confirm it, unlike the theory of act and potency, which is so general that it would apply to any empirical evidence in the first place, whatever it turns out to be.

(The promised digression: To be sure, there is a sense in which A-T regards the laws of nature as necessary. But what that means is that "laws of nature" are taken by A-T to be shorthand for the ways things will tend to act given their essences, and this is not a contingent affair. Given that there is in fact such a thing as helium, there is no way even in principle for helium to have properties other than the ones it does have. Still, the world could have been such that no helium existed in the first place. End of digression.)

So, philosophy of nature is more fundamental than natural science and its business is to investigate the necessary presuppositions of natural science. Thus, questions in philosophy of nature and questions in natural science have to be kept carefully distinguished.

Edward Feser said...

(continued)

Now, the question of whether there are formal and final causes is not a question of empirical science, but rather a question of philosophy of nature. In fact, A-T holds that the form/matter composition of material objects is just an application of the general theory of act and potency to the analysis of concrete empirical substances. The empirical world has to be made up of hylemorphic (matter/form) compounds, on this view, at least at some level of description. Natural science can certainly help us to determine what the formal causes of specific things are and which entities turn out to be true substances with true formal causes (e.g. a stone) and which merely accidental arrangements without true formal causes (e.g. a pile of stones, say, or an artifact). But whether there are any form/matter composites at all and thus whether there are any formal causes at all is not a question for natural science, but rather for philosophy of nature.

The dispute between A-T and a "mechanical" conception of the world, then, is at bottom a dispute in philosophy of nature rather than natural science. Hence, for example, atomism (a precursor to mechanism that Aristotle himself responded to) wants to deny that the ordinary objects of our experience are true substances, and thus to deny that they have formal causes. The atomist wants to say in effect that they are more like piles of stones than like stones -- mere collections not united by any principle like substantial forms. The A-T theorist will reply that even if this were correct, the atomist (or any mechanist of another stripe, for that matter) is going to have to arrive at something with a form/matter composition at the bottom level of material reality (the atoms, or whatever). Whatever the details turn out to be, hylemorphism of some sort or other must be true, and this is something we know from philosophy of nature rather than natural science. The only remaining question is whether we find true Aristotelian substances, true form/matter composites, at higher levels than the bottom level. But once we've admitted formal cause of some sort, the whole motivation of the mechanist view -- to get rid of such causes entirely -- goes out the window, and thus the pressure to get rid of formal causes wherever one can elsewhere in nature is removed.

So, to return finally to your question: When you ask whether there are examples of formal causes being useful, I would answer as follows. First, if by that you mean to imply that the question of whether any formal causes at all exist is a question of natural science, then that is a category mistake, because it is in fact a question in the philosophy of nature. And it is at that level that the A-T/mechanist dispute has to be resolved. Naturally, I would say that the A-T view is the correct one.

Edward Feser said...

(continued)

If on the other hand what you mean to ask is about whether formal cause -- the reality of which at some level is taken for granted for philosophy of nature reasons -- can be fruitfully applied in any more specific concrete cases in the natural sciences, then I would say "Yes, everywhere in the natural sciences, and there are lots of examples." But arguing about that is probably pointless unless the more general philosophy of nature questions are settled first.

For example, in philosophy of chemistry, one finds writers like Scerri, Hendry, and van Brakel arguing against reductionism, and claiming that the chemical level of description cannot be either defined in terms of the physical level, or eliminated in favor of the physical level. For example, the periodic table cannot in the view of some of these writers be derived from quantum mechanics. The A-T philosopher will say "Look, here we can see that formal causes exist even at the level of chemistry. That's what the chemical level of description gives us, in effect -- substances that cannot be reduced to their microlevel parts." The mechanist will reply "No, no, we can give some sort of reductionist, or eliminativist, or supervenience-oriented account if only we work at it hard enough."

Who is right? I would say the A-T philosopher is, but the debate clearly reflects certain background philosophical assumptions, and therefore it has to be settled at the philosophical level rather than the empirical one, even if empirical considerations play a role. And that is true of every example that could be offered -- in physics, chemistry, biology, psychology, wherever.

Blue Devil Knight said...

Thanks for the response Edward, it may take me a bit to process... but first just to clarify what I was asking.

You asked:

Perhaps I'm misunderstanding you, but it seems that you are asking for something like an empirical confirmation of formal cause -- a case where its use best accounts for the data, or has proved fruitful to research, or some such. Is that right?

No, I just want an example of the use of the concept in action in a clear noncontroversial case (to its advocates) that will help me understand it. A prototype upon which to hang my hat.

Blue Devil Knight said...

That was all interesting and sort of helpful, but still I'm after a simple example of formal causality.

I had assumed it wouldn't be part of a science, not something that would make specific predictions or anything, but something that provides a more comprehensive and intellectually satisfying picture of reality.

To repeat, I'm not asking for empirical verification, but simply a worked out simple example of formal cause so that the uninitiated can understand it in terms amenable to its proponents.

BenYachov said...

>simply a worked out simple example of formal cause so that the uninitiated can understand it in terms amenable to its proponents.

QUOTE "A useful analogy would be Frege’s conception of the relationship between propositions and sentences....."

or

Shape vs Statue?

I don't know about you BDK but that kind of works for me.....

Cheers friend.

BenYachov said...

>I just want an example of the use of the concept in action

Can you give us an example of what you are looking for?

>I had assumed it wouldn't be part of a science, not something that would make specific predictions or anything, but something that provides a more comprehensive and intellectually satisfying picture of reality.

I get the analogies Feser gives I am not clear why you don't get them? But hey you are still a very bright guy.

Cheers again!:-)

BenYachov said...

>I tend to be sympathetic to the antiCartesian rhetoric of hylemorphic dualism, but have yet to see it articulated in a way that distinguishes it empirically from sophisticated materialism.

BDK
Perhaps you really meant "philosophically" instead of "empirically"?

OTOH maybe your "sophisticated materialism" is just you unconscious, undiscovered latent Aristotleanism?

Just putting that out there.

I'm going to go watch a Zombie movie.

Later players!:-)

Edward Feser said...

BDK,

I see. Well, take the form of a tree, for example. For a thing to have that form is for it naturally to exhibit paradigmatic tree-like attributes -- going through a growth cycle, sinking roots into the ground, sprouting leaves, making new trees, and so forth. It is for the parts of the thing to be properly describable only in terms of their relation to the whole -- e.g. roots are what they are relative to the tree as a whole, for whose sake they exist. It is to be something repeatable -- many parcels of matter can have that same form, which is why there are many trees. It is to be something fixed and objective -- we discover what makes a tree a tree, rather than invent it; and what makes a tree a tree doesn't change. (Whether or not non-trees gave rise to trees or trees give rise to non-trees -- that's a separate issue.)

The "naturally" qualifier is there because a tree might have other attributes that are accidental and don't flow from its nature -- the fact that we use them for wood, for example, or that birds build nests in them. Also, a non-tree might seem to manifest some of these tree-like attributes, but only because it was made to do so against its natural tendencies. For example, you might construct a clever false tree that looked, smelled and felt like a tree, seemed to push out leaves and roots, etc. But it wouldn't for that reason really be a tree, because its parts weren't naturally oriented to work together to do those things. It would be a mere artifact, and thus not have the form of a tree (in the relevant sense) at all.

Does that help?

Blue Devil Knight said...

Ben: I meant empirical not intellectual.

Those examples don't really tell me what the form is.

Shape versus statue? So a physical thing's shape is its form? Why not just call it it's shape, then? Is it supposed to be type versus token type distinction?

Propositions and sentences? Egads that's a whole can of worms that I think we don't want to use as a simple example to hang our hats on!

Ed just provided a more concrete instance that should work...I'll have a look next response.

Enjoy the zombie movie!

BenYachov said...

@BDK

No worries dude!:-)

BRAINZ!!!!!!!!!!!

Blue Devil Knight said...

Thought I already submitted this, so forgive me maybe it is in spam I'll remove the reference to a certain biological kind that might have triggered spam filter....

-------------------

Thanks a lot Ed. This is very helpful stuff. Let me step back and replace 'tree' with 'x' to get a more general handle on this (and I use [x] for 'form of x').

1. For a thing to have that form is for it naturally to exhibit paradigmatic x-like attributes.

So for something to have the form of x is to meet a list of necessary and sufficient conditions for being x (or just necesssary)? Intantiating [even number] partly means being divisible by 2 without any remainder. Part of being [active sun] is to have fusion reactions going on.

2. It is for the parts of the thing to be properly describable only in terms of their relation to the whole, for whose sake they exist.

So if an instance of [x] has parts that are necessary for it being [x], then those components are subsumed under the idea of [x]? So in the context of [San Diego], the part 'La Jolla' is part of this organic whole. But it doesn't really exist for the sake of San Diego does it? Not sure roots exist for the sake of the tree. They certainly are part of the organic whole that is the tree, and to describe the tree fully we'd need to include them. But can't I describe 'La Jolla' fairly thoroughly, just not completely, without reference to San Diego? Same with the leaf of a tree.

I understand it would leave something out, sort of like discussing the physiology of spermatozooan locomotion without discussiong reproduction [this is the edited line, where I hadn't used the longer words :)].

The ending phrase 'for whose sake they exist' I don't quite get.


3. It is to be something repeatable -- many material objects can have that same form, which is why there are many x's.

This is fine. There are many instances of [dog] and [spatula]. This is starting to sound a lot like type/token distinction, though.


4. It is to be something fixed and objective -- we discover what makes a x a x, rather than invent it; and what makes a x a x doesn't change.


Seems fine with me. Though certain things like [meaning of the word 'gay'] changes over time, does that just mean there are different forms being instantiated at different times?

=========================

In addition to my questions (esp about number 2):

1. Already asked it, but what distinguishes the 'form' of x from the 'type' x (from type/token distinction)?
2. Where does formal cause come in? It seems causality never really enters essentially into [form] as you've described it. Would [San Diego] be a formal cause of [La Jolla]? Is this binary relation of 'formal cause' between two forms, or between a form and a physical object, or is there no general answer?
3. What is 'matter' as used in the 'form/matter' distinction? Is the 'matter' the actual stuff that instantiates forms (so, for a dog it would be a bunch of carbon and other molecules in a particular spatiotemporal arrangement)?
============

Once I feel I understand this, I will be better poised to opine how it shakes out in the philosophy of mind debates.

Thanks for the patient explanations, this is very interesting I have heard this jargon used a lot for many years, but never really gotten straight on it.

Blue Devil Knight said...

I said:
----
So if an instance of [x] has parts that are necessary for it being [x], then those components are subsumed under the idea of [x]? So in the context of [San Diego], the part 'La Jolla' is part of this organic whole. But it doesn't really exist for the sake of San Diego does it? Not sure roots exist for the sake of the tree. They certainly are part of the organic whole that is the tree, and to describe the tree fully we'd need to include them. But can't I describe 'La Jolla' fairly thoroughly, just not completely, without reference to San Diego? Same with the leaf of a tree.
---------------

Note I can see one clear sense in which roots exist 'for the sake of' the tree. Without roots, the tree dies. I'm just not sure how to cash out this 'for the sake of' relation.

And it becomes even tougher for cases like the relation between other parts/wholes that dont' have this dependence. That's why I brought up the 'La Jolla'/'San Diego' case.

Anonymous said...

What a refreshing post. I've never encountered this "A-T" philosophical approach to the mind before; I'd thought that, in the philosophy of mind, Cartesianism was the only game in town available for the theist. However, I wish Professor Feser would have touched a bit on the issue of the relationship between the A-T conception of mind and libertarian free agency. For me and many other Christians who reject determinism in all its forms (ex. J.P. Moreland, W.L. Craig, and so on), libertarian agency is absolutely essential in order for moral responsibility to exist. Anyway, this brings to mind a passage I read a couple of years back from a philosophy book I was required to read for a philosophy of mind class, Jaegwon Kim's Philosophy of Mind, who incidentally was also the lecturer for the class:

You want to raise your arm, and your arm goes up. Presumably, nerve impulses reaching appropriate muscles in your arm made those muscles contract, and that’s how the arm went up. And these nerve signals presumably originated in the activation of certain neurons in your brain. What caused those neurons to fire? We now have a quite detailed understanding of the process that leads to the firing of a neuron, in terms of complex electrochemical processes involving ions in the fluid inside and outside a neuron, differences in voltage across cell membranes, and so forth. All in all we seem to have a pretty good picture of the processes at this microlevel on the basis of the known laws of physics, chemistry, and biology. If the immaterial mind is going to cause a neuron to emit a signal (or prevent it from doing so), it must somehow intervene in these electrochemical processes. But how could that happen? At the very interface between the mental and the physical where direct and unmediated mind-body interaction takes place, the nonphysical mind must somehow influence the state of some molecules, perhaps by electrically charging them or nudging them this way or that way. Is this really conceivable? Surely the working neuroscientist does not believe that to have a complete understanding of these complex processes she needs to include in her account the workings of immaterial souls and how they influence the molecular processes involved. . . . Even if the idea of a soul’s influencing the motion of a molecule . . . were coherent, the postulation of such a causal agent would seem neither necessary nor helpful in understanding why and how our limbs move. (pg.229)


Admittedly, I am still somewhat of a yokel when it comes to philosophy, but it seems to me that Kim here is directing his criticism primarily towards Cartesian dualism in particular, not necessarily dualism in general. But even still, reading this passage, I wonder how "A-T" metaphysics bequeaths human beings - and no other material entities - with libertarian agency, and precisely how it does this against the backdrop of the numerous, detailed, deterministic molecular pathways and mechanisms that modern neuroscience is in the business of discovering. I can see how Cartesian dualism bequeaths them with it (via intervening and causing some sort of neural signal to go off). I have no idea how A-T dualism does so.

What is the A-T/hylemorphic understanding of libertarian free agency?

Daniel Smith said...

“Soul” on this view is just a technical term for the form of the living body.

What then is "spirit"? (with a little "s", not THE Spirit)

I've never heard that addressed from a Thomist perspective.

I am specifically interested as it relates to this passage of scripture: "For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart".

This seems to imply that "soul and spirit" are as intertwined as "joints and marrow" yet, just as joints and marrow are not the same thing, neither are soul and spirit.

We know also that, according to Jesus: "God is spirit", so how does that relate?

Can anyone here speak to these things?

Thanks.

TheOFloinn said...

My own 2 cents.

For living creatures, the form is more complex than for the inanimate, so it may be easier to see in this example, owing to William Wallace in The Modeling of Nature.

An atom of sodium is made up of the same matter as an atom of chlorine: protons, neutrons, electrons. What makes one a flammable metal and the other a poisonous gas is the number and arrangement of those parts; i.e., the form of the atom. It is not explainable by the matter itself. A free electron behaves very differently from an electron in the valence shell of an atom, for example.

Modern science is creeping up on formal causes by vague references to "emergent properties" and "self-organizing systems." And by the concept of "[w]holistic" analysis. The whole has properties that cannot be inferred from the parts.

Edward Feser said...

TheOFloinn writes:

Modern science is creeping up on formal causes by vague references to "emergent properties" and "self-organizing systems." And by the concept of "[w]holistic" analysis. The whole has properties that cannot be inferred from the parts.

Yes, exactly. And they use language like "emergence" because they can't break themselves out of the modern, reductionist, "bottom up" way of thinking of nature. The "emergence" language seems rhetorically to concede that the "lower" levels are somehow more real; and that in turn makes all the "emergence" stuff sound spooky.

The key, though, is to see that the very idea that the "lower" levels are "more real" is an illusion. None of the levels is more real than the others. But until one returns to the richer metaphysical apparatus of the Scholastics, one will lack the conceptual resources to express the point in a way that doesn't seem obscurantist, or "dualistic," or in some other way to halfway concede reductionism while halfway taking it back at the same time.

As I said in a comment over at Victor Reppert's blog: In general, it is a mistake to try to understand hylemorphism by analogy with the standard contemporary options. For the contemporary options are all variations on the truncated and anti-Aristotelian metaphysics of the early modern thinkers. Aristotelianism says there are four irreducible modes of causality -- formal, material, final, and efficient. The moderns rejected formal and final causes and radically redefined the other two, and all the standard positions familiar in contemporary philosophy -- materialism in all its flavors, substance dualism, property dualism, idealism, etc. -- tend to take for granted this basic anti-Aristotelian and simplified modern conception of causality. Hence when people try to understand hylemorphism by comparing it to various contemporary views -- "Is it a kind of functionalism?" "Is it a kind of supervenience?" "Is it a kind of non-reductive physicalism?" etc. -- they are badly missing the point. The A-T hylemorphist rejects the basic conception of the natural world that underlie all those views. It says "A pox on all the modern metaphysical houses -- materialist, Cartesian, idealist, and all variations thereof."

Another Anonymous said...

BDK: Shape versus statue? So a physical thing's shape is its form? Why not just call it it's shape, then?

Basically. But our philosophical terminology comes from Latin and the Latin for "shape" is "forma". (Except for the terminology that comes from Greek, where the word for shape is "morphe" as in "hylomorphism".) Of course, "form" in English tends to boil down to its philospophical roots. (Consider, e.g., a form as in a document to be filled out: it provides the "shape" into which the stuff ("matter") that you fill in has to fit.)

It is more than geometric shape, though that's a really obvious kind of example. Squareness is a Form, but so is Redness. Any Universal, in fact, that can be abstracted from a particular instance. As for sophisticated materialism, the A-T conception of matter is fairly sophisticated, so any theory that's sophisticated enough to explain reality that well will sound similar. A naive materialism might, say, claim that a stone is different from a tree because one is made up of stone-molecules while the other consists of tree-molecules, or so forth (i.e. different "matter"), but we know that matter ultimately comes down to identical particles (electrons, quarks, etc.) — it's the arrangement (="shape", or form) that differs. And that's why Aquinas says, "Told you so", because neuroscience and computing and quantum mechanics are all ending up at a place where Aristotle was thousands of years ago, but they just call it something different.

In fact, that modern science seems strange is largely the result of trying to think about it in old-fashioned naive-materialist terms. Reality pushes against that, but we're still dragging a lot of naive terminology along for the ride. Hence the growing problem of defining "materialism" or "matter" in a way that meaningfully separates it from any traditional, Scholastic-type philosophy. And that's why there's a growing trend of people finding out about it and saying, "Hey, this is exactly what we needed! If it was known centuries ago, why haven't I heard about it before?"


William said...

Hello,

I was sent here by another blog, so please forgive my newness. I have a few questions that others felt Dr. Feser might address, which I hope will help me to better restate certain mind-body problems in a potentially relevant system's vocabulary.

I am aware that, as Wittgenstein has asserted, in some philosophical systems it is simply not possible to assert certain propositions in a meaningful way. If this is true of my questions, please show me how they are non starters under the Scholastics.



1. How does the intellectual portion of the human form interact with the rest of the human substance, or is this a brute fact that is taken as a holistically given thing, not subject to any further understanding?

2. What is the difference between the form of a human and the formal cause of a human?

3. How does the form of a living human differ from the form of a dead human? Is this a change from one form to an entirely different one? If so, how does this happen?

Another Anonymous said...

Ed Feser: which entities turn out to be true substances with true formal causes (e.g. a stone) and which merely accidental arrangements without true formal causes (e.g. a pile of stones, say, or an artifact).

Hang on — formal cause or final? A pile of stones certainly has a form (a Pileness form, apart from the individual Stoney forms). Well, from the following paragraphs I guess you meant the substantial form in particular (as opposed to other, accidental forms), though I've never been quite sure what makes one form "substantial" where another is not. A pile of stones, a single stone, an atom, an electron... all participate in various forms, but what makes one a substance and the others not? It seems somewhat arbitrary at best. Is it down to the whim of God?

BenYachov said...

I just thought I'd drop by between Zombie films and encourage others to help answer BDK and William questions. Not so much as to argue to "win" but to argue to explain.

Since Dr. Feser is a busy man and can't answer everything & I'm still trying to simplify what I have learned into a few easy talking points some help here would be appreciated.

Cheers!

Another Anonymous said...

William: 1. How does the intellectual portion of the human form interact with the rest of the human substance, or is this a brute fact that is taken as a holistically given thing, not subject to any further understanding?

As soon as you use the word "interact", you're not asking an Aristotelian question. (Or rather, perhaps despite Wittgenstein, you're asking a question to which the answer is simply, "it doesn't".) Usually that question means the asker is imagining (a caricature of) a Cartesian dualism where a ghost is "interacting" with a machine (by... pulling levers, turning wheels, what? And hence the interaction problem — as long as you pretend not to notice that the same question is just as bad a problem for physics itself). Anyway, the Aristotelian soul doesn't "do" anything to the body, any more than the redness of your hair "interacts" with your hair. You can't have red hair without the redness (or without the hairiness), but that is not to be interpreted as some translucent spectre manipulating your strands of hair in some way. Nor does a round table "interact" with Roundness. The philosophical term would be to say it "participates" in roundness; but the roundness isn't a separate thing from the table, because you can't have a table without its roundness. (You can have a table that isn't round because it's square, but then it has the form of squareness; there's no such thing as a table with no shape at all, as though you could have pure prime matter sitting there bare. The prime matter all by itself is not a thing that you add to the "table" any more than the form; there isn't any table to speak of until you have form+matter together.)

2. What is the difference between the form of a human and the formal cause of a human?



None. Forms are one of the four kinds of cause: the formal cause of something is just the form that causes to be that way (have that shape, or whatever the form is). Note that "cause" does not mean "manipulation" or "interaction" (that would be an efficient cause, one of the other four types).

3. How does the form of a living human differ from the form of a dead human? Is this a change from one form to an entirely different one? If so, how does this happen?

Yes. (Well, not entirely different, insofar as there are lots of similarities between a body the moment before death and the moment after. Depending on how gruesome your death was, I guess.) And it happens by your heart stopping, and your brain shutting down, or whatever it was that killed you. Just as a round lump of clay becomes square by whatever it is that is squeezing it (and thus changing its form — or at least causing it to no longer particpate in Roundness and participate in Squareness instead). Instead of thinking of it as the form somehow changing, and that makes you dead, something makes you dead and that changes your form. Or rather, the change is a change of form.

Scott R. said...

Let me pile on another question, or rather elaborate on one of BDK's: namely, what is the A-T justification for requiring the concept of matter? It is obviously useful for explanations, like considering protons, etc. as the common material basis for chlorine and sodium, but on investigation of protons and electrons, or anything else, one will always only find more form. The idea that it all must bottom out in "prime matter" seems to me to be unnecessary. This is not to say that there isn't something other than form -- as Hawking poetically put it: "what breathes fire through the equations?", but it seems to me that a more likely answer to that question is God, as Pure Act.

Anonymous said...

This is not to say that there isn't something other than form -- as Hawking poetically put it: "what breathes fire through the equations?", but it seems to me that a more likely answer to that question is God, as Pure Act.

You do know what Pure Act is according to the Thomists, yes?

RP said...

BDK,

What helps me in understanding form (insofar as I understand it) is that form is not simply that by which a thing is this kind of thing or this kind of thing in this or that way, but also that which makes a thing knowable. So, whenever anyone knows anything a form is causing that knowing (this doesn't mean the form acts directly on the mind).

Blue Devil Knight said...

This view that somehow science or 'materialism' only recently realized that spatiotemporal organization is important seems a straw man, and also orthogonal to the idea of form. The view even of all materialists, from the Greek atomists onward, was that complex phenomena like life are complex organized machines, not just an unordered list of the subatomic particles that make them up.

Still not sure where cause enters in with these forms. That is, let's say I buy into the idea of a form. That doesn't tell me what 'formal cause' is.

Anon got at this with William:
Q: What is the difference between the form of a human and the formal cause of a human?

A:None. Forms are one of the four kinds of cause: the formal cause of something is just the form that causes to be that way... Note that "cause" does not mean "manipulation"...


This suggests that if we just leave out the word 'cause,' and just talk about something's form, then nothing is lost. If someone wanted to bite the bullet and maintain that only efficient and final causes are real (in the sense of having an actual role in explaining the origins of something), they could still believe in the existence of forms (the form of 'tree') but not formal cause (which seems to add nothing to the concept of 'form').

And I'm not even close to understanding how this helps solve the big problems in philosophy of mind. But that's to get ahead of myself.

Scott R. said...

@Anonymous 1:18,

I've read Aquinas, which of course does not make me an instant expert in Thomism, but that is why I asked the question (how does A-T justify the existence of "matter", given that whenever we investigate the material of something, all we find is more form). If it is not justified, then we will probably need to reevaluate other A-T concepts, including what "Pure Act" means.

Brute Fact said...

"unlike the theory of act and potency, which is so general that it would apply to any empirical evidence in the first place, whatever it turns out to be"

This seems the perfect description of a useless theory. If your theory can explain everything, then your theory explains nothing.

George R. said...

Scott R.:
“but on investigation of protons and electrons, or anything else, one will always only find more form. The idea that it all must bottom out in "prime matter" seems to me to be unnecessary.”

If that were the case, you’d have an infinite series of accidental forms that belong to no substance whatsoever. That’s impossible. It would be sort of like the Smile of the Cheshire Cat, hanging in mid-air with no “cat” to support it. The truth is this: when you’ve arrive at what a thing is, you’ve arrived at prime matter; for that which a thing is informs prime matter and nothing else. But unlike determinate matter, you can’t see prime matter or even what a thing is; you can only know them.

More Scott R.:
"How does A-T justify the existence of "matter", given that whenever we investigate the material of something, all we find is more form"

Where is it written that matter must exist without form in order to justify it’s existence?

George R. said...

"If your theory can explain everything, then your theory explains nothing."

That may be one of the most irredeemably brainless sentences ever written.

Brute Fact said...

Hi George R,

I think Popper came up with that, not sure really. It does not matter.

Suppose I have a theory that everything that we could possibly observe is the result of a committee of immaterial gremlins deciding that that is what will occur.

My theory certainly "explains" everything, right? Why does the sun rise? Because the gremlin committee decided it would. And so on.

But, the theory is completely useless.

TheOFloinn said...

on investigation of protons and electrons, or anything else, one will always only find more form.

Any observable substance is a compound of matter and form, so yet, a proton has a form. For any form, as I understand it, there is a minimal amount of matter complex enough to sustain it.

Thus, we may divide water indefinitely, but at a certain point it ceases to be "water" and becomes "molecules." H2O molecules are the "matter" of water, though it is not itself water. (It's not wet, for one thing.)

Atoms are the matter of the H2O molecule. Divide the molecule and it becomes an atom of hydrogen and two of oxygen.

Protons, etc. are the matter of atoms. Divide the atom and it can no longer sustain the form of hydrogen or oxygen, and you get free particles.

Quarks are the matter of protons and neutrons. In the form of two up, one down, each of a different "color," this matter takes on the form of a proton.

The fact that quarks have different kinds means that they, too, are composed of part and are in principle divisible.

We may never find the "atom" of indivisible matter.

Because prime matter has no form, it cannot be grasped. It is amorphous; having no shape. It is Pure Potency, able to take any form.

Brandon said...

But, the theory is completely useless.

But it's completely useless not because it explains everything but because it doesn't actually explain anything -- explanation does not consist in simply throwing up any old answer but in throwing up answers for which one has a rational account.

Anonymous said...

Brute Fact, I can't tell whether your posts are serious, or if you just playing the part of a clueless net skeptic for sh*ts and giggles.

Edward Feser said...

Hello all,

Only time now for some quick "drive by" points in response to some of the questions that have arisen:

1. As should be evident from the tree example I gave to BDK, the form of a thing is not merely its shape (though if a thing by nature tends to have a certain shape then that, among its other properties, will follow from its form).

2. Matter is necessary because it is the principle of potency (form being the principle of act) so that without it change would be impossible. Furthermore, the forms of material substances are, by themselves and without matter to instantiate them, mere abstractions. And it is also the principle of individuation. Hence, without matter, you couldn't have (for example) distinct trees, each carrying out its tree-like activities. You'd have only the abstraction "the form of a tree" existing in the divine intellect.

In this connection it is worth noting that the tendency of modern physics, at least when interpreted (as of course it usually is) in terms of a non-Aristotelian philosophy of nature, has been to describe the world as an abstract mathematical structure. As Bertrand Russell and others have pointed out, the problem with this is that there can be no such thing as an abstract mathematical structure existing all by itself -- there needs to be something which has the structure.

Notice too that there has also been a tendency in the direction of regarding time in the ordinary sense as illusory and to think instead in terms of a static four-dimensional "block" universe. (Like so many reductionist and eliminativist positions this only really re-locates rather than removes the offending property -- in this case, time in ordinary sense is merely relocated to the mind of the observer, where, like other features the moderns have removed from the material world -- color, odor, sound, meaning, etc. as common sense understands them -- it sits, unassimilable to the material world, leaving us with a kind of dualism.)

In both tendencies -- toward seeing the world as a mathematical abstraction, and toward seeing it as a static "block" universe -- what we see is essentially a return to the Parmenidean view of things, which is exactly what you'd expect from the denial of final causes and (therefore) of the act/potency distinction. (A "potency" is, after all, always a potency for some outcome, and thus entails final causality. The act/potency distinction and final causality thus stand or fall together.)

But the Parmenidean view is simply incoherent. Again, we can't really coherently deny that time in the ordinary sense is real at least somewhere (namely our minds) -- and the attempt only leads us to a Cartesian form of dualism rather than materialism -- and we can't really coherently say that only mathematical structure exists either. This is, therefore, yet one more example of how denying final causes has led us to absurdity. And the reason more people don't see it is, again, the usual one that they don't have a good grasp of ancient and medieval philosophy, and thus don't realize that the ancients and medievals already long ago thought through the implications of what the moderns cluelessly think of as novel ideas. What's modern is just the empirical scientific drag in which we dress up what are really at bottom just very old philosophical ideas.

Edward Feser said...

(continued)

3. I guess I thought everyone already knew the problem with Brute Fact's snarky remark, and thus I didn't bother to preempt it. Silly me. The problem, of course, is that empirical falsifiability is relevant to contingent empirical claims, but not to necessary truths. 2 + 2 = 4 is not empirically falsifiable, but that hardly makes it "useless." And the same thing is true of metaphysical claims like those concerning act and potency. That does not mean they are not testable or subject to critical debate. Of course they are. It just means that the kinds of considerations that enter into our evaluation of them are not going to be exactly the same kinds that go into our evaluation of a contingent empirical claim.

Of course, someone might reply to this by insisting a la Quinean naturalism that even metaphysical and mathematical claims are continuous with contingent empirical ones and have to be evaluated in the same way. But to say that is merely to beg the question, since it presupposes exactly what A-T denies.

George R. said...

OFloinn:
“Thus, we may divide water indefinitely, but at a certain point it ceases to be "water" and becomes "molecules." H2O molecules are the "matter" of water, though it is not itself water. (It's not wet, for one thing.)”

Well said.

Both Aristotle and Thomas did maintain that while continuous quantity is infinitely divisible, determinate substances are not. Also, it’s definitely true that molecules are not substances but matter belonging to substances. However, I always thought that if there were only one H2O molecule, there would be water. But maybe you’re right in saying that there wouldn’t be, since it would be lacking the other attributes of water.

I’ll have to think about this one.

Scott R. said...

George R.,

As I said, for something to be instantiated there must be something more than form, so the infinite series of forms is not the problem. My question, then, is whether the concept of "prime matter" is a useful way of characterizing this "something more", and I don't see that it is. The only function the concept serves is to answer "what instantiates physical forms". I can instantiate a Euclidean triangle, by thinking of it. One might say that I have "energized" it by thinking of it. So another answer to the question might be: God energizes electronic or quarkish forms (or whatever the most basic physical forms might be). Such an answer seems to me preferable to answering with "prime matter" in that it a) removes an ontologically unnecessary concept ("matter"), and b) is consistent with the theistic belief that all that exists is dependent on God.

So let me rephrase the question: why does A-T insist on hylemorphism, rather than, shall we say, theomorphism?

TheOFloinn said...

Scott R
You may be confusing the Aristotelian concept of matter with the physicist's concept of matter.

Matter: What X is made of?
Form: What makes it an X?

Thus, for example, a story has a [subject] matter and it also has a form [fable, novel, etc.]

In logic, we have

Formal fallacies: like asserting the consequent.
Material fallacies: like category error.

The argument's form is fallacious in the first case. But whether the second is fallacious depends on the [subject] matter of the argument.

In general topology, a topology is a set of subsets that define ‘closeness’ and a set with a topology is a space. The form is the topology and the matter is the {set}. Together, they comprise a space.

When you "think" of a triangle, the form of triangle is instantiated in the matter of the brain as neural patterns.

Not all these things are "matter" as the physicist understands it.

At least, as I understand it.

I note that the Blogger word verification this time is fesoar, somewhat reminiscent of our host's name.

Leo Carton Mollica said...

@Scott R.:

If God were to serve the role of prime matter, then God would be potential as regards determination to form, which is absurd, since He is Pure Act.

We need matter because, since forms themselves do not subsist, they must determine something potential as regards the reception of form to actual information. And matter then, as such, must be potential, not actual.

And on triangles: the A-T view is that they are individuated by "intellectual matter" found in the second degree of abstraction.

Daniel Smith said...

What then is "spirit"?

Since no one has taken any interest in my question, I decided to look at Thomas' writings for myself.

Aquinas (from what I've seen) uses the terms "soul" and "spirit" interchangeably. This cannot be right however as it is contrary to the scripture I quoted from Hebrews that says the word of God can divide between soul and spirit.

Further research into other sources reveals that many theologians consider man to be of three parts: spirit, soul and body. The distinction between spirit and soul is explained thus: "human beings have a spirit, human beings are souls."

I'd really like to know some of your thoughts on this.

Lamont said...

Daniel,
In A-T metaphysics the soul is the animating principle of some living thing. Plants, animal, humans all have souls. Now God is simple and can be described as pure act or pure spirit, but it would be incorrect to say that God is or has a soul.

The interesting thing is that the human soul is self-subsistent and can exist apart from the body. Hence it is immortal. So the human soul is like God and the angels and can be referred to as a spirit as the bible and Aquinas frequently do. But the human spirit naturally exists in a body and is in fact the substantial form of the body.

The writer of Hebrews may have been referring to that aspect of humans that is most like God (spirit) and distinguishing it from all that is more directly connected to the body but still distinctly human (soul).

Blue Devil Knight said...

So how do you get an afterlife from the conception of soul as form? Must have to add some extra apparatus for that? Or stipulate that's part of the form of being human?

Brandon said...

So how do you get an afterlife from the conception of soul as form?

You're quite right -- from the bare conception of soul as form, you don't; it's entirely possible to be a hylomorphist and think the soul corrupts (ceases to exist) with the body, or to hold that the soul outlasts the body in some way, but not in such a way that it remains even a partial person. The latter has actually not been uncommon throughout history, and the former is not uncommon among people of a broadly Aristotelian sort today. To get more you need to identify a feature or features of the soul that at least make it reasonable to say that the particular form you are dealing with in the human case is incorruptible. That is, one needs an argument. Historically various features have been identified, but the one that has usually been regarded as the strongest is the one used by Aquinas (Thomists usually follow Aquinas in thinking it demonstrative, others in the broadly Aristotelian tradition have argued it merely establishes it as a probability, and most people recognize it as establishing the possibility), the intellectual capability to recognize universals as such, and part of the reason for that is that it's an argument that will at least make a lot of sense if you've already accepted the basic hylemorphist framework.

Although talking about 'an afterlife' is somewhat misleading; sticking just to hylomorphism you can't establish all that much more than incorruptibility, which is about the very most minimal that can be established -- i.e., that there is something that could reasonably be called immortality of soul. Getting anything more of what we usually call "an afterlife" generally requires appealing to other considerations than simply those concerned with matter and form.

Brandon said...

Daniel,

Thomas Aquinas deals with this explicitly in his commentary on the verse you mention. You can find his commentary on Hebrews online in English translation.

Daniel Smith said...

Lamont: The writer of Hebrews may have been referring to that aspect of humans that is most like God (spirit) and distinguishing it from all that is more directly connected to the body but still distinctly human (soul).

Thanks for sharing this Lamont. I think you are right that "spirit" is the part of us that is like God, and "soul" is (I'm not sure how to put this) more... carnal? earthly? base in nature.

To my mind: the soul is what the spirit and the flesh (body) fight over. The Apostle Paul talks a lot about a battle between flesh and spirit.

Because of this, I'm of the opinion that there must be three things in play here (spirit, soul and body) - not two (soul and body.)

I am, although I was raised a Catholic, coming at this from a decidedly non-denominational perspective. I am basing my theology most of all on my reading of the Bible, while trying also to integrate the metaphysical thought of Thomas Aquinas into that framework.

A work in progress.

Jinzang said...

What then is "spirit"? (with a little "s", not THE Spirit). I've never heard that addressed from a Thomist perspective.

An obscure bit of Church history I happen to know about. The 8th Ecumenical Council (the so-called anti-Photian council) declared that the soul and spirit were identical. (See the 11th Canon.

Scott R. said...

Ed,

Thanks for the response, but I'm still not seeing any ontological role for the word 'matter'. I can understand 'matter' as being a convenient name for 'principle of potency' when talking about the objects of our senses, to distinguish those objects from, say, mental objects, or angels. Would you agree, though, that that is all that it is? What we call material objects have underlying forms of one sort, while the latter (presumably) have underlying forms of another sort. So would you agree that 'matter' is just a relational term -- to distinguish one kind of potential from others? And that 'material causes' are just formal causes considered at a different level (the formal cause of steel that gives it solidity is a material cause of the knife)?

If so, then it seems to me that one should just dispense with the concept of "pure potential". As you've said, potential is never found isolated, so it is not something experienced that must be accounted for. On the other hand, all one needs to account for the instantiation of form is a potential (uninstantiated form) and act. Therefore, it seems that 'form/act' is a better way to characterize what we observe than 'form/matter'. But you also said that form is the principle of act, so I must still be confused. If it just means that act must have some form to act on, I can understand it, but I suspect there is more to it than that.

TheOFloinn,

I get that everything (except God) is a composite of act and potency, but in Aquinas a distinction is made between "objects of our ordinary experience", which are called form/matter composites, and (say) angels, which are not, and I would presume our thoughts and dreams, are also not form/matter composites. So 'prime matter' is just the name for 'pure potential' when applied to the objects of our senses. But 'potency" is just uninstantiated forms. What makes them actual is act, ultimately Pure Act. So the only difference between what we call material reality and non-material reality is that the former is instantiated using one kind of forms (which we call electrons, etc.), while the latter is instantiated using another kind. There is no ontological role for the word 'matter'. It is just a convenient word to distinguish one set of potential forms from another.

Leo,

If God were to serve the role of prime matter, then God would be potential as regards determination to form, which is absurd, since He is Pure Act.

Since I am questioning whether the concept of 'prime matter' serves any ontological role at all, then I am obviously not assigning 'God' to that role. What I am suggesting is that for things to exist one needs God (or something, e.g. mind or consciousness) as continually 'energizing' or 'thinking' them. That is, acting on their forms.

Daniel Smith said...

Brandon,

Thanks for the link!!!

Aquinas' take on it: "According to the Apostle there are three things in man: body, soul, and spirit: ‘That you wholly spirit and soul and body may be preserved blameless in the coming of our Lord’ (1 Th. 5:23). For we know what the body is. But the soul is that which gives life to the body; whereas the spirit in bodily things is something subtle and signifies immaterial substance: ‘Egypt is man and not God: and their horses, flesh, and not spirit’ (Is. 31:3). Therefore, the spirit in us is that by which we are akin to spiritual substances; but the soul is that through which we are akin to the brutes. Consequently, the spirit is the human mind, namely, the intellect and will."

So he does not interchange the terms "spirit" and "soul" as I first suspected, but rather equates "spirit" to "intellect and will".

Interesting.

Daniel Smith said...

Jinzang: "The 8th Ecumenical Council (the so-called anti-Photian council) declared that the soul and spirit were identical."

I guess they are at odds with Aquinas then (see above.)

Curious.

James Chastek said...

So how do you get an afterlife from the conception of soul as form?

Brandon's right that one needs an argument, but the presumption for immortality might be a little closer than it seems. Clearly, if one sees the soul as an accidental form (which is the only sort of form most see- though it is a real form that goes beyond a mere list of the molecules that make something) then the case for immortality is obviously empty - asking where the soul goes after death would be much more silly than asking where your lap goes when you stand up, or where the neatness of the classroom goes after the students have their way with it. But the soul on hylemorphism is not such a principle, but one that needs to be understood as the same sort of intrinsic principle as matter. But anyone can see that matter survives the destruction of the material thing, and so it isn't odd (and perhaps there is even a presumption) that the form survives as well.

Daniel Smith said...

Now, to throw a monkey-wrench into the works...

Aquinas' view that the spirit and the mind are the same thing seems to contradict the words of the Apostle Paul to the Corinthians:

"For if I pray in a tongue, my spirit prays, but my mind is unfruitful. So what shall I do? I will pray with my spirit, but I will also pray with my understanding; I will sing with my spirit, but I will also sing with my understanding."

So it would seem from this that there are (at least) four things in play here: spirit, mind, soul and body. (I say "at least" because we can probably add a fifth element: the heart.)

Aquinas' commentary on the above verse reveals a further refining of his mind = spirit stance:

"I will pray, therefore, in the spirit, i.e., imagination, and with the mind, i.e., the will."

So here he equates "spirit" to "imagination" and "mind" to "will".

Personally, I don't think the spirit is the mind or the imagination, I think it is God in us. I think we are spiritually dead until we are born again.

As Jesus said:

“Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.”

Brandon said...

Hi, Daniel,

I don't think you read that portion of the Corinthians commentary closely enough; cf. section 838.

None of the verses you are quoting are definitions of words but descriptions of things; Aquinas doesn't assume that words mean exactly the same thing everywhere they occur, so he always determines the meaning on the basis of context, not on the basis of an abstract definition applied mechanically. And Aquinas also recognizes that there may be more than one reasonable interpretation of a passage and (as in this case) when he recognizes this he often explicitly mentions it.

Blue Devil Knight said...

If the form of the tree is to have leaves, or roots, or whatever, what of the seed? Does the seed have the form of the tree as potential?

Blue Devil Knight said...

Or rather should I say it has the form of the tree from the beginning, but the matter only as potential?

Blue Devil Knight said...

We are still left with the problem of understanding why objects that instantiate certain forms are conscious and some are not. That is, the 'Hard Problem' remains. Why is there something it is like to be an instance of the form 'mammalian brain' (or 'mammal' if you prefer the whole organism), and why there isn't something it is like to be an instance of the form 'birch tree.'

Is the answer going to be empirically distinguishable, or more conceptually satisfying, than what a type identity theorist would say?

Perhaps it could help with conceptual thought, which was more the focus here, but for now I am more curious about conscious experience.

Getting to something that Edward wrote:
One problem with many claims made for materialist reductionism, then, is that they rest on a conception of part-to-whole relations in material substances that is (on the A-T view) false across the board, not merely where the mind-brain relationship is concerned. It is false to say that a tree is “nothing but” a collection of roots, trunk, leaves, sap, etc., even though a tree does of course have such parts.

compared with
plants and non-human animals have forms, and thus “souls,” but are purely material

So if a plant is purely material, what is the problem with saying a plant token is a complicated arrangement of matter? What is the deep misunderstanding of 'part to whole' relations that this displays, and does a materialist have to buy into A-T metaphysics or can they apply this (as yet unspecified) part-whole apparatus to plants too?

As a naturalist, I'm happy to say that a plant's roots are part of the organic unity, the whole organism, that is the plant. But the plant is still just a complex biological machine (not necessarily classical machine).

Blue Devil Knight said...

I've asked multiple times about the meaning of 'formal cause' and what it adds if you already buy into the idea that 'forms' exist. Awatkins at Victor's blog responded:
BDK: Maybe it would be helpful to understand formal causation in terms of dispositions and powers. A lot of philosophers of nature these days speak of certain things having dispositions and powers. Either people as holistic substances do, or for the reductionists some sort of basic entity, the atom maybe.

So if we take the atom as the basic entity, and ask why it can naturally behave and react in certain ways, we say it does so because it has a certain "form". And when it *does* in fact exercise powers this is an instance of formal causation.


I am certainly sympathetic to dispositional views of various powers. But it seems to work fine on its own (e.g., Nancy Cartwright) without buying into a whole Aristotelian apparatus (as you suggested). It seems it might be orthogonal to the issues we are talking about here wrt formal cause.

But I'd need to think it through more frankly, those are just my first thoughts.

Anonymous said...

Blue Devil Knight = 66th post

Now that is felicity. A place for everything, and everything in its place.

Bobcat said...

BDK: I wouldn't be shocked if the strength of the A-T theorist came when it came to dealing with metaphysically weird puzzles that (perhaps) the naturalist has a hard time with, e.g., the statue and the clay, the ship of Theseus, personal identity in cases of fission or gradual neuronal replacement by computer chips. Maybe that would be a promising place to go?

TheOFloinn said...

But the plant is still just a complex biological machine (not necessarily classical machine).

Not unless you know of machines that self-assemble from a "seed."

Blue Devil Knight said...

Bobcat, perhaps, but that wouldn't answer my question about consciousness. How specifically might this theory illuminate conscious experience? Why, given that there are all these forms, formal causes, and such, being instantiated (and of course their associated matter), why are some conscious and others not? ARe there any resources here that give an advantage over other viewpoints such as substance dualism, materialism, property dualism, etc?

This formal cause apparatus seems neutral on consciousness.

It basically seems neutral on everything. Not sure how it solves any specific problems. That's why I said in my initial response that I like the anticartesian rhetoric of this hylemorphic dualism, but where is the substantive alternative?

It seems all this form/formal cause/matter stuff is so generic that it doesn't actually hit any particular view head on. And if you can be a hylemorphic dualist about mind, why not about plants, rocks, etc? They have forms and formal causes, what apparatus is in place to restrict the dualism to only certain things?

The promiscuity of the 'form' and 'formal cause' categories seems to be a weakness in the sense of giving nothign specific to hang onto for mind/thought etc (let's hope that second word passes throught he spam filter)

Maybe it's a good starting point, and additional assumptions and technical apparatus must be added to make hylemorhpic dualism a reasonable seeming position in philmind.

Blue Devil Knight said...

OFloinn I'm assuming nobody here is a vitalist, and I am happy with these molecular machines growing according to natural proceses (developmental molecular biology is far enough along that we don't need to put much stock in vitalism). At any rate, that would sidetrack us: Feser said plants are merely material, and that seemed to contradict something else he said. I don't want to get sidetracked about whether molecular processes are sufficient to grow a seed into a tree (for the record, I would answer 'yes, obviously', but really don't want to get sucked down vitalism road).

Brandon said...

This formal cause apparatus seems neutral on consciousness.

Perhaps if you were less vague about the problem it would be easier to say something about it. In what way does it seem neutral on consciousness where materialism, substance dualism, etc., don't seem neutral on consciousness?

TheOFloinn said...

@BDK
It was the "machine" part that was faulty. It carries a false 19th century metaphor.

Blue Devil Knight said...

Brandon, just saying 'you too' isn't a response. The entire post was about how great this viewpoint is at dissolving pseudoproblems brought up by the dogmatic substance ontology.

So I ask again, how does this metaphysics of form/formal cause help solve the philosophical problems of consciousness (as posed by Chalmers/Nagel/Descartes).

And note substance dualism is not neutral on consciousness, far from it. Materialism is neutral within its bounds, i.e., it must claim that conscious experiences are natural processes. typically this is cashed out as brain states or some such. But I want to learn about this hylemorphic dualism (e.g., why be a hylemorphic dualist about minds but not plants or stones; why is one set of form-instances consscious and others not?).

Note Feser said that qualia are part of the natural order in his post, so perhaps in that sense this is consistent with a materialist theory of conscious contents, but not abstract conceptual contents.

I still don't see how positing forms gives you conceptual contents, but I'm going after consciousness right now.

Blue Devil Knight said...

My hunch is that without a bunch of additional assumptiosn and arguments, hylemorphic dualism is not a fait accompli once you accept the ontology of forms/formal cause/matter. If humans are just another evolved species like a paramecium, and the brain is another complex biological process like digestion, and if paramecia and digestion don't require any sort of dualism, then consciousness/thought don't require dualism either (whether of the hylemorphic or substance varieties).

That's not to say that, perhaps, there is a natural affinity there. Hell, once you accept something as extravagant as the objective existence of forms, perhaps you will also not mind adding the additional assumptions necessary to get you to hylemorphic dualism.

First impression is all, perhaps I am wrong about this.

Brandon said...

Brandon, just saying 'you too' isn't a response.

I wasn't saying 'you too'. I was quite literally asking what you are identifying as the problem, i.e., what, precisely, is hylomorphism not doing that you think it should be? And your answer to the question shows exactly why your question is far too vague for anyone even to be able to shed some light, except by accident. You say, "how does this metaphysics of form/formal cause help solve the philosophical problems of consciousness (as posed by Chalmers/Nagel/Descartes)". And what exactly is that? Descartes doesn't have any "philosophical problems of consciousness" because consciousness, i.e., thinking, is a effectively primitive in Cartesian philosophies of all kinds; Nagel and Chalmers are engaged in dealing with rather different issues, and between the two of them they don't make the same assumptions about what is most important in talking about consciousness. So, again, what exactly do you have in mind?

You mentioned previously the Hard Problem, so let's use this as an example of the vagueness. Two questions would have to be asked for clarification:

(1) I take it that of Block's three kinds of things called 'consciousness', i.e. phenomenality, reflexivity, and accessibility, you are assuming something like Block's understanding of the hard problem as involving only the first (rather than, say, some mix of the three, or having three separate Hard Problems)? Or do you have something different in mind?

(2) I take it, also, given that you mentioned Chalmers, that you understand the Hard Problem in the way Chalmers typically formulates it, as arising from the inability of purely computational or neural explanations to explain a feature of consciousness? Or do you have some variation of it in mind?

If you answer yes to both of those questions, then your question is entirely about mechanical explanations and phenomenal consciousness in particular, and then addressing whether hylomorphism has anything to say on the matter requires beginning with the questions of (1) whether hylomorphism allows for more than mechanical explanations and (2) whether our standard characterizations of phenomenal consciousness make assumptions that the hylomorphist is committed to. If you don't, then what you are identifying as the problem is something entirely different, and discussing the matter requires beginning someplace else entirely. It's that simple.

Likewise, I still have no idea how you are using "neutral with regard to consciousness" here, except that for some reason you never bother to explain, substance dualism isn't.

What general desiderata are you suggesting a theory should have vis-a-vis consciousness? I've gone back and read all your comments, and as far as I can see it's all mush -- the problem with forms is apparently some kind of neutrality that has something to do with the Hard Problem and Chalmers, Nagel, and Descartes, with a connection in some way or other to the question of whether the human form corrupts with the body. Or so it seems. Good to know, I guess, but it's all rather mysterious. I'd love to see if I have any sort of answer that might clarify something, but holy moly there's no way to give a precise answer to a question as vague as you're asking.

I suppose one could go the other way; Ed in his philosophy of mind book discusses how hylomorphism has advantages over other alternatives on issues in philosophy of mind that he thinks are especially important. Maybe that's the answer: pick up the book in the library. But I have no way to tell from what you've said so far whether you would think the same issues the issues that need addressing, or if his approach there would do anything to help you given what you're looking for. You've just been extraordinarily vague; I and probably several others would love to help, but everyone's just shooting in the dark about what you're really looking for.

Blue Devil Knight said...

Brandon: What is vague here? I assume most people here know what I mean by conscious experience: what it is like, the raw feels, such as the experience of a blue sunset. Phenomenal consciousness, if you must use Block's
terminology.

My question is simple: does this theoretical apparatus help explain phenomenal consciousness? By invoking the ontology of forms am I to suddenly see that phenomenal concsiousness is not a strange property of the universe, but to be expected? Nothing to see here, no further explanation needed?

That would be awesome I'd love to understand how that works!

And again, why no hylemorphic dualism about plants, digestion, rocks, etc?

Leo Carton Mollica said...

@BDV:

And again, why no hylemorphic dualism about plants, digestion, rocks, etc?

Excuse me if I'm looking at something out of context, but surely you don't mean to suggest that hylemorphism is restricted to human beings? One of the great advantages of hylemorphic dualism is that it fits the human soul into a general metaphysical framework that applies to all things: every corporeal thing whatsoever is composed of matter and form, including plants, digestion, and rocks.

If, on the other hand, you are asking why only the human soul is subsistent in a unique sense, the answer is simple: it alone grasps forms in a manner totally divested of material incarnation.

Blue Devil Knight said...

Thanks Leo, that's helpful and is exactly what Feser said too. I don't buy that it is divested of material incarnation, but I suppose that's a different issue and if that's the theory then that's the theory.

Also, I realize that Ed was focused on abstract conceptual thought, and I have been trying to get a handle on consciousness first, to see if this apparatus has any insights to offer about that (I frankly see that as a tougher phenomenon to explain than conceptual thought, but that's just my bias I guess).

It's like I'm reading Aristotle+Christianity, and I'm finding I really prefer just Aristotle.

Blue Devil Knight said...

I guess this is the additional assumption, over and above the theory of form:
If, on the other hand, you are asking why only the human soul is subsistent in a unique sense, the answer is simple: it alone grasps forms in a manner totally divested of material incarnation.

If I didn't buy that it was immaterial, the additional claim, then I could just say it is like digestion or plant growth. No dualism needed.

So these claims:


What does distinguish us from the brutes and entails immateriality is our grasp of concepts or universal ideas. One reason conceptual thought cannot be material is that concepts and the thoughts that feature them are abstract and universal, while material objects and processes are inherently concrete and particular; another is that concepts and the thoughts that feature them are (at least sometimes) exact, determinate, and unambiguous while material objects and processes are inherently inexact, indeterminate, and ambiguous when they are associated with conceptual content at all.


Seem to go beyond this Aristotelian form/matter ontology into specific issues in philosophy of mind that you'd find (as noted) in Quine for language, and others.

Which brings me back to my concern that this apparatus isn't actually doing all that much work.

But for now I want to focus on consciousness, and see if Brendan can answer my question, before moving on to conceptual thought (if I do that).

Edward Feser said...

BDK,

Let's see if this helps: As I've said, hylemorphism is radically anti-reductionist. Hence, while it is happy to endorse what empirical science tells us about the micro-level features of water, stones, plants, and animals, it denies that things are reducible to their micro-level features, that all higher level properties must be deducible from the lower-level ones, or that the lower levels are in any other respect privileged. For that reason, though, there is no "problem of consciousness" any more than there is a "problem of metabolism," not because both are reducible, but because neither is. The reductionist picture is wrongheaded from the start, and generates philosophical pseudo-problems. Among its other failings, it has too crude and Procrustean a conception of matter.

Of course, many people claim that reductionism has been vindicated by empirical science, but by itself such a claim merely begs the question against the hylemorphist, who claims that reductionism has not been "read off" of science but rather "read into" science.

That is, needless to say, a large issue, but it isn't only A-T writers who think reductionism is oversold -- as I noted above, whether reductionism holds even in chemistry (let alone higher level systems like biological ones) is a matter of contention among mainstream writers on the subject. (For the most detailed A-T, hylemorphist defense of a radical anti-reductionism, see Oderberg's Real Essentialism.)

The bottom line is that the A-T hylemorphic view is highly relevant to the "problem of consciousness" insofar as it challenges the general reductionist picture that generates the "problem" in the first place, and does so on principled grounds that are motivated completely independently of issues in philosophy of mind.

Finally, re: the immateriality of intellect -- and as you know, that (rather than consciousness) is where A-T sees a need for dualism -- that is not, contrary to what you seemed to imply above, something that Christian writers added to Aristotle. Aristotle (like Plato) held that the intellect could not in principle be accounted for in wholly material terms, even on his broader conception of matter (broader than modern materialism, that is). And for him no less than for the other writers, this had to do with the distinctive nature of conceptual thought. Of course, unlike the Christian writers (and unlike Plato) Aristotle is not so clear about whether the individual intellect survives death. But that is a separate issue.

awatkins69 said...

@BDK: I'd consider Cartwright to be thoroughly Aristotelian. I think one really does have to come to something that is at least Aristotelian in spirit. Personally, I've been trying to work out the details, because I myself have considered these things vague. But I do see the need and I find any reductionist (or Cartesian for that matter) explanation unsatisfying. So this is still all based on my limited ability and understanding.

I think this may be a fair analysis of form. I've asked some Aristotelian philosophers, like Tuomas Tahko, whether another understanding of essence which I proposed is an acceptable account and they've said it's on the right track. Form is very much related to essence, so I'd assume that the following is on the right track as well. Anyways:

For any entity X the form of X is the truthmaker of the proposition "X necessarily has the properties a,b,c and powers/dispositions e,f,g" ("powers/dispositions" is probably a subclass of "properties" but I just want to make it more clear).

So I think that forms are important and cannot be done away with unless you'd admit that that proposition has no truthmaker; but that's not very intelligible to me.

Let me try to make it clear what truthmaking brings to the discussion. A truthmaker is some fact or aspect of reality in virtue of which a proposition is true. Now, if we want to say that the truthmaker is simply the fact about the chemical structure, that doesn't work. The truthmaker of the proposition that hydrogen has certain powers is not the fact that it has such and such a structure of microparticles. It's irreducible to that. And if you think it is reducible to that, then it just pushes the question further. I think the same goes for anything with a form, be it humans, plants, or water molecules. Its form as so defined is not reducible to the molecules/atoms/microparticles that make it up.

That's long and there's still a *lot* more to be said. I might also be completely off. If I am then the more thorough Aristotelians here will correct me.

Another Anonymous said...

Hi, BDK, (after trying to post this a few times over the weekend it may be too late, but I'll try once more):

This view that somehow science or 'materialism' only recently realized that spatiotemporal organization is important seems a straw man

Nah, just an oversimplification. Sure, nobody is really that naive, but what that amounts to is that everyone really is an Aristotelian (to some degree), just maybe without knowing it. A lot of that is because people aren't familiar with the terminology and with what Aristotelianism is actually about. Some of it is because people react against the perceived implications, like teleology or some divine First Cause. (Just as once upon a time, some people objected to Aristotle because they thought it couldn't jibe with their Christian/Islamic beliefs. But that didn't last either, for the same reason that to try and seriously disagree with these fundamental concepts results in making a straw man out of one side or the other.) Whatever the reason, you can find people who reject Aristotelian "formal causes" then turn around and affirm "organization". Deep down, it's all the same reality that Platonists/Aristotelians/Scholastics have been talking about for centuries.
(cont...)

Another Anon, cont said...

...
If someone wanted to bite the bullet and maintain that only efficient and final causes are real (in the sense of having an actual role in explaining the origins of something), they could still believe in the existence of forms (the form of 'tree') but not formal cause

Well, you could have a form (like, say, that of a Decillion-Sided-Polygon) which isn't being "used" anywhere; if there's no instance of such a form anywhere, then it's not "causing" anything, so technically there is a difference; but in practice the terms "form" and "formal cause" are often interchangeable. Your reference to the "origins" of things gives a clue that you are thinking of "cause" as meaning an efficient cause, so of course it will sound strange to refer to form or matter as "causes"; but that just comes down to terminology again. The Latin causa means a cause or reason; or a case, situation, or condition. We don't think of all these connotations in our everyday modern use of the English word "cause", though it still has other meanings (as in "just cause", etc.). But to philosophers, at least in this context, a "cause" is any reason, any answer to the question "why", any "be-cause".

Here's an example: suppose you're an electron, and as another electron comes towards you, you move away. Why? Be-cause that other electron is moving closer, of course (that's the efficient cause, the "manipulation" or "interaction" cause). But there's more to the explanation; we also need to know that it happens be-cause like charges repel. (That's the final cause: a negative charge has a tendency or disposition to move away from another negative charge.) But that's still not enough: the repulsion happens when you're an electron and not a proton be-cause an electron has a negative charge (the formal cause, the electron's being the kind of thing that it is, in this case, having a negative charge). And of course there's also the material cause, i.e. that you're there as an existing thing in the first place. Of course, efficient causes are often the ones we're most interested in; when we ask, "Why did this electron move?", we're normally implying or taking for granted that there is something there, it has an electron-ic nature, that it's in that nature to react a certain way to negative charges, and so forth, so that the efficient cause is the only one left we want to know about. But clearly all four aspects need to be accounted for to explain what's going on.

Toggle said...

But the big question about hlylemorphism is 'why posit any of these things: form/matter/act/potency?'

I mean, I can understand the distinction between universals and particulars - some things are repeated and some can't be - and so why it is we accept those categories. Hylemorphism appears to reject these categories as they are usually conceived and seeks to insert its own. But what I can't see is how such a metaphysic can be justified.

Why do we introduce these categories? What work do they do that universals/particulars can't?

I suppose I am after a derivation of hylemorphism from first principles, analogous to the one that can be given in the case of universals/particulars.

Feser, you should write one up and get it published in Philosophy Compass.

Toggle said...

But the big question about hlylemorphism is 'why posit any of these things: form/matter/act/potency?'

I mean, I can understand the distinction between universals and particulars - some things are repeated and some can't be - and so why it is we accept those categories. Hylemorphism appears to reject these categories as they are usually conceived and seeks to insert its own. But what I can't see is how such a metaphysic can be justified.

Why do we introduce these categories? What work do they do that universals/particulars can't?

I suppose I am after a derivation of hylemorphism from first principles, analogous to the one that can be given in the case of universals/particulars.

Feser, you should write one up and get it published in Philosophy Compass.

Anonymous said...

Jan 21, 12:21 Anon asked: "How does A-T metaphysics bequeath human beings with free will?"



Perhaps this book might be of help to you: The Mind and the Brain: Neuroplasticity and the Power of Mental Force

http://www.amazon.com/Mind-Brain-Neuroplasticity-Power-Mental/dp/0060988479/

In it, a leading UCLA psychiatrist and neuroscientist (who also happens to have done his undergraduate degree in philosophy) argues for the following claim: By exerting free will, the immaterial mind can alter the physical structure of the brain.


Philosopher of religion and mind, J.P. Moreland (whom you mentioned), has cited the book in many of his works, and, as a dualist, I obviously enjoyed it immensely. But like you, I wonder if Dr. Schwartz's central claim is compatible with A-T dualism in particular. Maybe some knowledgeable Aristotelians/Thomists around here can help.

Blue Devil Knight said...

Another anonymous: OK then I think we are not all that far apart that is a useful clarification.

But that's still not enough: the repulsion happens when you're an electron and not a proton be-cause an electron has a negative charge (the formal cause, the electron's being the kind of thing that it is, in this case, having a negative charge).

Then who would disagree with this? Not a criticism, if that's really all there is to being a formal cause, then I have nothing to complain about.

Blue Devil Knight said...

Ed that is helpful thank you.

I generally think it is a mistake to be an 'antireductionist' or 'reductionist', as it depends on the phenomenon. We have explained the activity of individual neurons as an emergent property of the biophysics of thousands of different species of ion channels. We wouldn't have a clue how neurons work without it. Reductionistic explanations are ubiquitious, ineliminable, and extremely useful in biology (imagine where our understanding of inheritance would be without such an approach).

Important aside: giving a reductive explanation is not the same as eliminating (this is the biggest confusion I run into from people: phlogiston was eliminated, neuronal action potential firing has been reduced). Neurons still fire action potentials even though we have explained at a mechanistic level how the process works.

On the other hand, in another context, to explain why a molecule moved in a circle of radius 100 feet, you might want to know it is on a ferris wheel (lots of other examples of 'downward causation' I collected are here), and describing the local microforces pushing it would be to miss an important explanatory point.

Nonreductive materialism was probably the most popular view of mind in the 1980s (based on multiple realizability considerations, not top-down causation). Now people like to talk about 'emergence' and nonlinear dynamics/chaos, and sometimes top-down causation. It's all consistent with a naturalistic view of the universe.

On consciousness in particular, Ed said:
The bottom line is that the A-T hylemorphic view is highly relevant to the "problem of consciousness" insofar as it challenges the general reductionist picture that generates the "problem" in the first place, and does so on principled grounds that are motivated completely independently of issues in philosophy of mind.

So basically hylemorphism has a great deal in common with nonreductive materialism about consciousness.

Blue Devil Knight said...

One worry is that people just don't even try to explain things. Imagine if we just accepted 'wholes' and didn't analyze them into their component parts, and try to delineate the mechanisms. It could lead to a kind of credulous mysterian view of the world and anti-intellectualism. Why do kids resemble parents? Just a brute fact, don't go any deeper, dude, pass the bong.

What is matter? Never mind. What is mind? Doesn't matter.

Blue Devil Knight said...

Incidentally, the philosopher I have found who understands how biologists actually work in practice is Bill Bechtel. For instance, his article:
Bechtel, W. (2007). Reducing psychology while maintaining its autonomy via mechanistic
explanation. In Schouten M. & Looren de Jong H. (Eds.). The Matter of the Mind: Philosophical
Essays on Psychology, Neuroscience and Reduction. Oxford: Basil Blackwell.

When I read him I don't feel like I'm reading someone that has no idea how we (biologists) work (as opposed to Fodor and much 1980s philosophy of mind caught up in the hysteria of multiple realizability and neurophobia).

Blue Devil Knight said...

Awatkins: interesting approach, though see my counter-concern about antireductionism in my prevous comments.

James Chastek said...

BDK,

One of your questions provides a particularly good point of departure to the questions you are raising about how hylemorphic theory could explain the phenomenon of consciousness, namely:

"And again, why no hylemorphic dualism about plants, digestion, rocks, etc?"

But Aristotle and the whole history of psychologists that followed him did give a hylemorphic account of both digestion and plants! See Aristotle's De Anima, Book II chapter 4. Hylemorphism does a particularly good job at explaining how a.) all the parts of something that eats can belong to the eater, while at the same time b.) most (if not all) of them from outside of it. In fact, I'm not aware of any other account of nutrition that allows one to preserve both truths.

In fact, Aristotle explained knowledge (both of sensation and intellect) only after he gave a hylomorphic account of digestion because it is particularly illuminating to compare the sort of assimilation that takes place in eating with the sort of assimilation that consciousness makes of objects. Said briefly, nutrition assimilates matter without assimilating form; knowledge (or consciousness) assimilates form without matter. The interior principles of matter and form thus not only give an account of nutrition and knowledge, but allow us to explain the latter by comparing it to the former. Similarly, the same principles allow a way to divide sense knowledge from intellectual knowledge. Speaking for myself, the more I reflect on hylomorphic composition, the more I see it explain phenomena with a breadth and economy that is as wide as, say, the theory of heat as molecular motion.

This is not, of course, to say that the theory explains the things you want to know about knowledge - but no theory explains everything everyone wants to know about some subject. It's quite possible that hylomorphism is providing hundreds of answers to a questions you are not asking. In my experience, this is usually the case.

Blue Devil Knight said...

James that is really helpful. While it is hylemorphism, I was curious specifically about the 'dualism' side of it. What does the 'dualism' add to 'hylemorphic.' Assimilation of matter but not form is an interesting way to look at digestion (I wonder where crystal growth falls in this).

I'm not sure how useful (or true) it is, but it is certainly has an aesthetic appeal.

George R. said...

Toggle:
“But the big question about hlylemorphism is 'why posit any of these things: form/matter/act/potency?'”

Form, matter, act, and potency are the principles of all being. They are also immediately known from the data of the senses. Therefore, those who deny or ignore them, to the extent that they deny or ignore them, are not doing philosophy but merely practicing sophistry. It’s that simple.

awatkins69 said...

Hi BDK. There is an extent to which I think that Aristotle can be understood in "naturalistic" terms. Aristotle himself was probably a "naturalist" and may have even believed in supervenience himself i.e. that the soul no longer exists so long as the body does not.

With regard to the criticism that we won't care about finding out the scientific aspects ("don't know dude, pass the bong" lol): The formal cause for an Aristotelian is only *one* of the four causes. Science is concerned with the material and efficient causes (what a thing is made of, and how it was made). I don't think anyone just gives priority to formal cause and forgets about everything else.

Also, that a thing has a certain form is not just a brute fact. A brute fact is an unexplained and uncaused contingency. On the other hand, a thing necessarily is what it is. If it is an X then necessarily it has the form of an X.

With regards to reductionism, which point are you talking about? Best.

Blue Devil Knight said...

Awatkins good points. But then someone shouldn't be antireductionism full stop, but antireductionist about 'forms' but not efficient causes.

wrt reductionism I was talking about my bong worry.

TheOFloinn said...

@BDK
If I understand matters correctly, it is the form as grasped that is without material incarnation. This dog and that dog and the other dog have material incarnation, but "dog" does not. Every material dog is a particular dog; but "dog" is universal and immaterial, save that the thought leaves a "footprint" in the neurons of the brain.

TheOFloinn said...

@Toggle:
I can understand the distinction between universals and particulars - some things are repeated and some can't be

That's not the distinction. It's the distinction between Fido, Rover, and Spot on the one hand and "dog" on the other hand.

Toggle said...

George R.:

"Form, matter, act, and potency are the principles of all being. They are also immediately known from the data of the senses."

Asserting it doesn't prove it. I can't see how they are evident to my senses. Perhaps you are claiming that act/potency is really nothing but change, and change is evident to the senses. I grant that change is evident, but why can't it be accommodated via either different particulars, 'sense-data', or by the same particular instantiating different properties?

Toggle said...

"It's the distinction between Fido, Rover, and Spot on the one hand and "dog" on the other hand."

Well, that looks pretty much like the distinction I drew.

Come again?

TheOFloinn said...

@BDK
Imagine if we just accepted 'wholes' and didn't analyze them into their component parts, and try to delineate the mechanisms.

It has been coming across that you seem to regard formal causes as a different variety of efficient cause and in rivalry to it. But the contention is that a complete understanding of a thing's nature requires knowledge of all four "becauses." The fact that cause has been collapsed to mean efficient cause just as science has been collapsed to natural science confuses the issue.

IOW it is the Moderns who neglect other becauses -- while at the same time tacitly relying upon them.

Edward Feser said...

Toggle,

A-T claims that the distinction is necessary in order to account for change, and in particular for efficient causation. Nor need one have a prior commitment to A-T to arrive at a similar view -- contemporary "new essentialist" (or "dispositional essentialist") writers like Ellis, Molnar, Cartwright, Heil, Martin, et al. have more or less independently arrived at something like the Aristotelian view in their attempt to make sense of causation. (The "categorical/dispositional distinction one finds in such writers is more or less the act/potency distinction.) That is not to say that these writers agree with A-T metaphysics across the board, of course, only to point out that the act/potency distinction can be arrived at from different directions, and certainly without a prior commitment to theism or other elements of A-T.

Edward Feser said...

Everyone,

Sorry, I've been derelict in checking the spam box for the last couple of days. If it ate one of your comments and you haven't been able to re-post it, please try again. I apologize for the inconvenience.

Blue Devil Knight said...

Ofloin no I get that they are meant to be different, was responding to some of the antireductionist rhetoric I was seeing. Maybe that works for forms, but not what biology typically deals with (see my last comment to awatkins).

Edward Feser said...

BDK,

Just to be clear, the hylemorphist does NOT deny that breaking things down into their parts is necessary for understanding them. Of course it is necessary. He denies only that it is sufficient for understanding them. So, when you say that reductionism is sometimes useful, if what you mean is that breaking things down into their parts can be extremely illuminating, no one denies that. But that is not what I meant by "reductionism." I was criticizing the view that there is nothing more to a thing that a catalog of its parts, that features of the whole must always be deducible from the parts, etc.

George R. said...

Toggle:
“Asserting it doesn't prove it. I can't see how they are evident to my senses.”

Do you think I’d bring it up, if I couldn’t prove it?

Look, we can perceive immediately from the data of the senses that certain things ARE. This is act. We can also perceive other things which, although they are not, nevertheless CAN BE. This is potency. We are also immediately aware that those things that CAN BE depend entirely on those things that ARE. For example, we know a dog CAN BE crossing the street, because we know that the dog and the street ARE. Thus, potency and act are immediately grasped from the data of the senses, as is the dependent relationship of the former to the latter.

Moreover, we can see that those individual things that ARE are one thing at present (This is form, which is the act of the thing.) but can be something else. In other words, they have the potency to receive another form; and that which is in potency to receive a form is matter. So, in immediately grasping that a thing is one thing and that it can be something else, we a perceiving both form and matter.

Thus, all four principles are immediately grasped from the data of the senses.

Blue Devil Knight said...

"Do you think I’d bring it up, if I couldn’t prove it?"

Ummm...what internet are you living in :)

Showing the form has objective existence is tricky based on experience. We can see particular instances, but that's not the form.

Or so it could be argued.

Ricky Hatton said...

We can see particular instances, but that's not the form.

Isn't this one of the big splits between the Platonic view and the Aristotelian/Thomistic view?

A/T diverging from the Platonic idea that the form itself is in another 'realm'.

Toggle said...

Ed:

"contemporary "new essentialist" (or "dispositional essentialist") writers like Ellis, Molnar, Cartwright, Heil, Martin, et al. have more or less independently arrived at something like the Aristotelian view in their attempt to make sense of causation."

The only one on that list I am familiar with is Molnar, and his view, as I recall, is that intentionality happens in the physical world too, providing directionality to dispositions. So I guess that potency forms a narrower category than possibility. And presumably it is the form which is responsible for the potency of a thing?

But I'm much more interested in the A-T rejection of the universal/particular distinction. (You do reject this right? I seem to remember Oderberg having a go at it.) How is this move justified? It seems to me that U/Ps can do all the work that F/Ms can, but without all the extra metaphysical baggage.

Toggle said...

George:

Taking things a step at a time,

"Look, we can perceive immediately from the data of the senses that certain things ARE. This is act."

Okay, tick.

"We can also perceive other things which, although they are not, nevertheless CAN BE. This is potency."

But we don't perceive possibilities through the senses, that happens through the imagination. Also, (as above) potency is supposed to be a narrower category than possibility, so it can't always be potency I am thinking of.

"We are also immediately aware that those things that CAN BE depend entirely on those things that ARE."

Depends what you cash dependence out as. A possibility is always a possibility of something, if that's what you mean. But some people think there are properties beyond our capacity to conceive of - we cannot be immediately aware of those.

"For example, we know a dog CAN BE crossing the street, because we know that the dog and the street ARE. Thus, potency and act are immediately grasped from the data of the senses, as is the dependent relationship of the former to the latter."

Well, the inference is something like

i) I can conceive of no contradiction in the idea of a dog crossing the street,
ergo,
ii) It is probably possible.

But such an argument goes beyond our experience.

"Moreover, we can see that those individual things that ARE are one thing at present (This is form, which is the act of the thing.) but can be something else. In other words, they have the potency to receive another form; and that which is in potency to receive a form is matter. So, in immediately grasping that a thing is one thing and that it can be something else, we a perceiving both form and matter."

This says nothing new. A platonist can agree to all of this - just replace matter with particular and form with property.

"Thus, all four principles are immediately grasped from the data of the senses."

I think you are a bit confused.

Daniel Smith said...

Hi Brandon,

"I don't think you read that portion of the Corinthians commentary closely enough; cf. section 838."

I did read that. Thanks though, for pointing out my over-rigidness in interpreting Aquinas.

Aquinas offers these interpretations:
"then my spirit, i.e., the Holy Spirit given to me, prays... Or my spirit, i.e., my reason, prays... Or my spirit, i.e., the imagination, prays"

I'm inclined to lean towards the first one.

Do you agree with me at least that Thomas did not hold "spirit" and "soul" to be equivalent things?

George R. said...

Toggle:
"So I guess that potency forms a narrower category than possibility."

Not on this side of the looking-glass, it doesn't.

Brandon said...

BDK,

Your clarification that you are dealing with phenomenal consciousness understood as experiences is actually much more helpful than your previous 'philosophical problems of consciousness as in Chalmers/Nagel/Descartes'. If you want problems in philosophy of consciousness addressed, it's precisely a point where you shouldn't assume that people know what you mean: I have an entire bookshelf of books that make distinctions about different things people mean by consciousness (indeed, that was the whole point of Chalmers's argument about the Hard Problem, that 'consciousness' was an equivocal term and that when people were solving problems about consciousness, they were equivocating between the sense that posed Easy Problems and the sense that posed the Hard Problem).

I'm not really the one to ask questions for clarification about phenomenal consciousness; I have the eccentric view, for reasons not particularly relevant here, that it's a pseudo-category arising from misdescription of experience (people can be genuinely talking about something when they talk about it, but they are doing so under misleading and equivocal descriptions). Specifying that that is the problem you had in mind, rather than something about reflexivity or accessibility or awareness or some such establishes fairly conclusively that I don't really have anything that would help. But others might.

I'm not sure how it fits with your further question (or whether it's supposed to), "And again, why no hylemorphic dualism about plants, digestion, rocks, etc?" which seems like a radically different question. But in hylemorphism dualism is determined by properties indicating subsistence: i.e., you could dualism about plants, rocks, etc., if you had an actual argument that when we look at the actual activities and operations of plants, rocks, etc., at least one of those actions was independent of the matter of the plants, rocks, etc. In a non-dualistic hylemorphism the argument is that there is no such action; in what Ed calls a hylemorphic dualism, the argument is that there is an action performed by the matter-form composite that is purely formal. Thus it is a feature of hylemorphism as such that it directly implies not that we should be dualists or not but instead that we can and should determine it in each case on the basis of the evidence (namely the evidence of what the living thing actually does), including our own. That's very Aristotelian. The sort of "A-T hylemorphic dualism" talked about in the post is a more robust hylemorphism in which arguments have been put forward that such evidence exists in the human case, at least.

So part of the answer to your question, assuming I understand it properly, is that hylemorphism as such doesn't establish dualism as such; what it does establish is a more fundamental and less tendentious framework than the mind/body one Descartes taught dualists and materialists alike to use, in terms of which the truth or falsehood of dualism can be subject to actual investigation and inquiry. Is there dualism for plants, humans, etc.? The basic hylemorphic answer is: investigate and see, and here's what to look for.

Part of the issue is perhaps also indicated by Ed in one of the above comments; hylemorphism is not a position put forward in order to handle problems in the philosophy of mind. If one is a hylemorphist, one is a hylemorphist because of its value in analyzing change. Change being fairly pervasive, it would have also to apply to matters of mind and body; and Ed's point in the post, of course, was that when, having it in hand, we come to philosophy of mind, we find that hylemorphism actually has some real advantages over the main rivals, allowing for a unity of mind and body well in excess of what substance dualism allows, which is often seen as a weakness of substance dualism, while still avoiding what are often seen as disadvantages of out-and-out materialism, even of a non-reductive kind.

Brandon said...

Hi, Daniel,

I think it depends on the context, and this is true for most medieval thinkers. Sometimes in medieval discussions soul and spirit are distinguished, and sometimes soul is treated as the larger term, involving a higher part (spirit) and a lower part. In part this is because 'soul', anima, really doesn't mean much more for them than 'what makes us alive', and you can sometimes mean that in a narrower sense and sometimes in a broader sense. So Thomas's view, which he more or less explicitly states on occasion, is that the bipartite division (body/soul) and the tripartite division (body/soul/spirit) are actually not opposed, and are best interpreted in ways that make them consistent with each other.

BenYachov said...

Cool discussion so far!

I have been trying to get BDK over here to interact on Aristotle for some time now.

I hope he comes back(assuming he went back to Victor's blog which is his "home").

It's refreshing having a thoughtful skeptic who asks intelligent & challenging questions instead of an a kneejerk reactionary who stomps his foot saying "IT MUST BE WRONG BECAUSE YOU BELIEVE IN GOD AND ZOMBIE JEW!!!!".

I thank God for reasonable Atheists!

machinephilosophy said...

Just received The Last Superstition, and my wife and I are already worn out from laughing while reading just a few pages of the first chapter, "Bad Religion". This is the kind of philosophical writing that will further not only the debate about God, but also advance culture-wide interest in those issues that the debate entails.

Dr. Feser: Thanks for this great book.

Anonymous said...

"...reasonable Atheists"


If Ilion were still here, he'd call this an oxymoron.

Blue Devil Knight said...

Yes, Ilion was always good for using rhetoric like that to drive the discussion forward in a productive way.

Daniel Smith said...

Hi Brandon,

"Sometimes in medieval discussions soul and spirit are distinguished, and sometimes soul is treated as the larger term, involving a higher part (spirit) and a lower part."

Thanks for the clarifications.

As the writer of Hebrews points out: soul and spirit are as intertwined as joints and marrow.

On a personal note... I am coming at Thomism from a different perspective than most here (I think): 18 years raised Catholic followed by 30 years of evangelical/pentecostal Bible-based theology (mostly based on my own study since I found most "Bible experts" seriously wanting.)

Maybe I can add a fresh perspective to the discussion here - maybe not. I appreciate the chance.

BenYachov said...

>>"...reasonable Atheists"


>If Ilion were still here, he'd call this an oxymoron.

I think many Protestants and other non-Catholic types can be reasonable and I have met some Catholics who are not reasonable at all.

That is just a brute fact about the world. I find it unremarkable.

Cheers all!

Tony said...

I had a discussion with a Jehovah Witness person a few months ago, who pulled out his Bible to "show" me that the soul is a material substance (i.e. material component of us) that dies. I was so dumbfounded at such an interpretation that I did not know where to begin.

Brandon, can you expand on the tripartite division body/soul/spirit for me a little? When used in this sense, is the soul not spiritual?

George R. said...

I'd say that an atheist can be reasonable, but not insofar as he's an atheist. Therefore, a "reasonable atheist" is not necessarily an oxymoron, but "reasonable atheism" is.

Leo Carton Mollica said...

@George R.:

Might we not be able to legitimately describe someone's atheism as reasonable in a comparative sense? The atheism of J. H. Sobel, for example, is reasonable when compared to that of, say, Richard Dawkins.

George R. said...

Leo, it’s true that one can offer serious objections to theism, as well as silly ones; and those who offer the former are more reasonable. However, to ultimately affirm the atheistic position and assent to it is intrinsically unreasonable, since it is by reason that the theistic position is proven apodictically.

Anonymous said...

Yo Thomists.

Have you read this?

Walter J. Freeman.
Nonlinear Brain Dynamics and Intention According to Aquinas
.

To quote:

The systems for mechanization of brain function that were introduced by Descartes, Leibniz, Spinoza and Willis in the 17th century have served well for the design and development of the measurement systems and tools providing new data, but the machine metaphors of computation, representation, and information processing are incompatible with these data.
The key point of breakdown is the lack of invariance of spatial patterns of mesoscopic brain activity in sensory cortices elicited in association with fixed learned stimuli for which the context and significance are changed. The philosophical system that most clearly and unequivocally conforms to this experimental finding is that of Thomas Aquinas.


Peace out.

Vincent Torley said...

Hi. I'd like to return to AnotherAnonymous' reply to William's first question: "How does the intellectual portion of the human form interact with the rest of the human substance...?"

AnotherAnonymous wrote:

"As soon as you use the word 'interact', you're not asking an Aristotelian question... Usually that question means the asker is imagining ... a Cartesian dualism where a ghost is 'interacting' with a machine... Anyway, the Aristotelian soul doesn't 'do' anything to the body, any more than the redness of your hair 'interacts' with your hair."

With the greatest respect, I don't think it's that simple. Consider the act of willing your hand to go up (e.g. because you're in a class, and you've just figured out the answer to a difficult math problem). The act of will here is an immaterial act. Yet this act is the efficient cause of the neural processes in my brain which in turn cause my hand to go up. So at some stage, we must suppose that immaterial human acts can bring about molecular movements. I accept that they do, but I still find it odd. And that does sound to me like an interaction of sorts.

Anonymous said...

"we must suppose that immaterial human acts can bring about molecular movements."


This act of the immaterial mind altering brain/neural structure seems obviously compatible with Cartesian dualism. But is it compatible with Thomistic dualism? Is the *same* act of physical alteration occurring in the Thomistic picture?

Lamont said...

A simple analogy might might help. When you flip a switch and the lights come on the efficient cause of the light is the electricity that provides the energy which produces the light. The formal cause of the light coming on is the flipping of the switch. It produces a new form - a complete circuit.

In a choice the act of the will is the formal cause not the efficient cause. On the neurological level the act of the will flips the switch that causes neurons to fire and the hand to raise. Science studies the efficient causes of the hand raising but it ignores the formal cause which is the act of the will.

Tony said...

Anonymous, We know that when the hand raises, it is on account of contractions of the muscle, and those contractions are on account of electro-chemical changes in the nerve tissue in the muscle. Those nerve signals follow upon prior nerve signals in the arm, and the spine, and the brain, and we think we see an electric and chemical cause and effect relationship between the brain activity and the nerve signals in the muscle. The only aspect of this that is (to scientists) mysterious is the part where the will operating to command "raise the hand" is followed by chemical changes in the brain. I don't see why it matters whether we think, thomistically, whether the will's operation has the "same" act of physical alteration that scientists describe, in toto, or different: maybe the will's operation is, somehow, directly affecting the brain, and the spinal column change, and the nerve from the spine to the arm, and the nerve in the arm, and the muscle, so that the will is achieving all of these immaterially in some sense. But if so, it still achieves the later parts of the process with prior operations in the brain and spine necessarily preceding the later parts.

Brandon said...

Tony,

My inclination is to say no, because in that sense 'spiritual' means 'having to do with our ability to understand and love', and 'soul' is being used to indicate the soul insofar as it performs more basic vital functions. Perhaps indirectly, though, and I'd actually have to go back and look at all the major instances in which Aquinas makes use of the tripartite scheme to be sure.

VJ,

In a deliberate act of moving your arm, the act of will is not a purely immaterial act; it's a genuinely material act involving neural processes, etc., that has a purely formal component (choice of a good as such) belonging to the will, and that is very different from saying that it is an immaterial act causing a separate material act. Despite the convenience of talking about the will causing this or reason directing that, what actually does things in hylemorphism is the matter/form composite -- reason, will, etc., are simply capabilities of that that go beyond the material acts of the body. When I deliberately raise my arm, the act of will here is exactly that: deliberately raising my arm. We can analyze this one act into 'parts' -- intention, consent, choice, use -- but these are not related to each other as efficient cause to distinct effect but, to put it roughly, as presupposing and presupposed, and are determined wholly by distinguishing all the various ends and subordinate ends in the one action and seeing how they relate to each other. In such an account interaction is at best a metaphor to aid in analysis, but taken straight is completely misleading both as to what is actually acting and what the agent is actually doing in the act of willing.

Brandon said...

Tony, re your response to Anonymous,

It ultimately comes down to this: is the action of raising your arm really a deliberate action or not? If it is, then the whole action of raising your arm is an act of will. The only alternative is that you have a deliberate act of will that touches off a cascade of other things in a process that is only deliberate incidentally, due to the nature of what originally set it off. But that's the very difference, as far as willing is concerned, between Thomistic hylemorphism and Cartesian substance dualism. In Thomistic hylemorphism the whole act is the will commanding "raise the hand," to put it in your terms. To use a theological analogy, the Thomistic will, unlike the Cartesian will, is not a deistic will, giving a fillip and letting things run their course from there. Every properly human activity in our lives, everything we do that is genuinely our action is in some way an act of the will itself.

Blue Devil Knight said...

Lamont said:
The formal cause of the light coming on is the flipping of the switch.

Sounds a lot like efficient cause to me.

BenYachov said...

>Sounds a lot like efficient cause to me.

Your finger pushing the switch is the efficient cause of the switch being flipped yes. But I must agree tentatively with Lamont it is the Formal Cause of the light going on.

BenYachov said...

A flipped switch completes the circuit which is the form of the working and active electrical mechanism, I assume.

TheOFloinn said...

Consider the act of willing your hand to go up

My impression is that this still imagines the "I" as being somehow distinct from the body. But it is "your" hand every bit as much as it is "your" will, so why would the hand not go up?

Something here may be useful:
http://perennis.wordpress.com/2009/04/07/my-soul-is-not-i%E2%80%A6/

TheOFloinn said...

I would have said the formal cause was the arrangement of switch, wire, generator, lamp, resistor. If the switch were reversed, the wiring other than what it is, the resistor missing or defective, etc., the light would not be. We analyze system reliability in formal ways, since it depends on the number and arrangement of the parts: parallel, serial, etc.

Blue Devil Knight said...

After all this discussion I'm sort of left feeling tepid about hylemorphic dualism. That's not necessarily bad, just not gung-ho either. It seems better than Cartesian dualism, in that it rejects it, but I don't see much of a positive theory of mind (in that case it is friends with the Cartesians).

The hylomorphic perspective seems overall semi-interesting, it is where the 'dualism' part is brought in that I am least impressed. If you can take a hylomorphic nondualist perspective on trees or photosynthesis, you could do the same for humans and human brains. That is, the dualism doesn't fall out of hylemorphism in a trivial way, and it could be that the hylemorphic view ends up treating thought/consciousness the same way as photosynthesis. At least, a priori, that is a conceptual possibility I would urge. The arguments for adding the 'dualism' are the same kind of arguments you find from everyone else in philosophy of mind, with or without hylemorphism. While I understand their pull in some cases, they are not exactly knock-down (I find them unconvincing enough to continue taking a naturalistic approach to mind, and when they are presented in the context of hylemorphism that doesn't suddenly make me accept them (e.g., the supposed indeterminacy of content in a naturalistic worldview)).

The antireductionist perspective is sort of interesting, but doesn't seem very well articulated (in what sense specifically is a plant more than the underlying physicochemical organization in environmental context, evolutionary history, and other things that naturalists are happy with)? It is certainly possible that it was in there and I didn't understand it.

On the other hand, I could be read as saying that hylemorphism has a lot in common with many forms of naturalism, and there could be hylemorphic nondualists about the mind. There are already attempts from naturalists to fuse Aristotelian philosophy with modern science (e.g., in moral philosophy, and apparently quantum physics). This could also be done with neuroscience, modern naturalistic perspectives on the mind, don't throw out the forms, but the dualism. There could be a productive cross-pollination there, possibly. A PhD thesis worth of work, for sure. Sort of like modern naturalistic phenomenology is a field unto itself, someone could pull a coup with naturalistic hylemorphism especially about mind.

So obvious, it's probably already been done.

Blue Devil Knight said...

Bumper sticker: be a hylemorphic naturalist about mind.

People will get all mad, say it is an oxymoron, you will get a book published, and a job at a great university.

Just acknowledge me in the intro. :P

Blue Devil Knight said...

Before you say it can't be done, look at Patricia Kitcher and Kant....I guarantee it can be done.

Lamont said...

BDK,
I take it that you now accept the Form/Matter distinction and the Soul/Body distinction, but you do not believe that the soul is something spiritual or immortal. Here is the simple version of the argument for the immortality of the soul. It has two parts.

The Immateriality of the Soul

1. As a thing acts, so it is.
2. The soul/mind acts to form abstract immaterial concepts.

Therefore, the soul is immaterial.


The Immortality of the Soul

1. Only what is composed of material parts can break down and cease to exist.
2. The soul is immaterial or spiritual and not composed of material parts.

Therefore, the soul cannot breakdown and cease to exist.

Blue Devil Knight said...

Lamont: concepts about immaterial things are fine, but doesn't imply that concepts themselves are immaterial things. The phrase 'a million letters long' is not a million letters long. Content/vehicle and all that (link is to something I wrote on content/vehicle distinction).

BenYachov said...

The soul is immaterial but it's not made of an immaterial material/substance(i.e. Ghost matter, ectoplasm etc).....Cartesian dualism still sucks!:-)

Long live hylemorphic substances!!!!:-)

Blue Devil Knight said...

Also, Lamont, that sounds like an argument for substance dualism. Immaterial things? As I said, I understand the pull of some of these arguments, but they seem the same arguments you get from substance/property dualists. Perhaps with an eliminable hylemorphic spin with words like 'act', but it could be reformulated without the hylemorphic apparatus. Or so it seems.

Blue Devil Knight said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Blue Devil Knight said...

Ben good point: he didn't say immaterial things, but just immaterial.....nonthings...:)

Regardless the argument as it stands is not very compelling. And doesn't seem to rely in any essential way on hylemorphism.

TheOFloinn said...

in what sense specifically is a plant more than the underlying physicochemical organization in environmental context, evolutionary history, and other things that naturalists are happy with?

What you may be saying is that "naturalists" are relying on formal causes without realizing they are in the mishmosh they have made of causation. The difference between the plant and the rest of it is, of course, that the plant is alive. One may organize all the physicochemicals in their environmental context, but they might not bloom in your garden.

BenYachov said...

>Also, Lamont, that sounds like an argument for substance dualism. Immaterial things?

Why does a "thing" have to have a material or immaterial substance?

Forms are things. Anyway when it comes to the Human Soul(the Form of Forms) something like Plato's theory of forms might be true.

I think. Others can explain it better.

Another Anonymous said...

Blue Devil Knight: Then who would disagree with this? Not a criticism, if that's really all there is to being a formal cause, then I have nothing to complain about.

Well, I think that's the reason Aristotelian types get so exasperated at attempted rejections that don't understand what it's really about! Of course, the more you develop a philosophy the more room there is for disagreement, but I do think that Aristotelian fundamentals are underestimated. Most scientists don't understand much philosophy, and most philosophers don't understand much science. Even worse, a lot of philosophers don't understand traditional philosophy! I think you're right that non-reductionist-emergent-etc. theories have a lot in common once you get past the terminology.

Here is my (again, simplistic) take on three key aspects of mind: Aristotelians/Thomists will agree with neuroscientists about qualia, because to them the imagination is a material thing (i.e. matter+form), so any imagination stuff is brain stuff. Intentionality is also nothing mysterious, because everything is teleological; it doesn't mean an electron has a mind, but "tending" (like things with natures do) and "intending" are the same kind of thing, the latter is just done by a mind. And then there's intellection: here, I think, is the "dualistic" sort of thing you're looking for. Aristotelianism is dualistic insofar as everything has the twoness of "form" plus "matter" — so even plants and rocks are "dualistic". In the sense that form+matter = one thing, one substance, even human beings are "monistic". Most of the things a person does are done by the whole person, form+matter, body+soul, so neuroscience applies in the obvious way.

But to actually understand something — as opposed to 'blind' calculating like a computer does — it has to be possible to "see" or "grasp" a Form directly. That's what understanding is, the direct apprehension of a Form (Idea/Ideal), and it can't be a material thing because putting a Form "in" matter is to make an object of that type (Redness + matter = red thing, etc.); so if understanding were getting the form of Redness in (say) your brain, that would just make your brain red. Instead, the Form is being grasped as an abstract, immaterial thing, so it has to be a non-material operation. Now anything you do to get this Idea or to use it has to go through the whole person, the composite (specifically, to go through the brain), so empirically, there's nothing to see (or not to see, in a gaps-sense). The act of intellection is a primitive, there's nothing else "going on", no immaterial "steps" or "manipulations", just a simple and fundamental reality that makes the difference between a mind and a computer. (I also assume from this that Thomism is open, at least in principle, to artificial intelligence — if all the "calculations" that go into thinking happen materially in the brain, they could in theory be reproduced in a machine, just without the act of grasping Forms themselves.)

Another Anon (cont) said...

Lamont is right that you can conclude some sort of immortality of the soul from this, but it's not as interesting as Cartesian-types would think. An electron (say) is "immortal" too, in the sense that anything not made up of parts cannot decay or corrupt. Composites can corrupt because anything made up of parts might come apart. The human soul's specialty is its being able to "grasp" Forms; a plant has a soul while it's alive, and when it dies, it stops being that kind of thing (a vegetable organism), its matter "loses" that form it once had, and becomes new sorts of matter (as it rots and decays). However, because a human soul has this one single non-material ability, losing its body doesn't mean losing that non-material aspect. So the soul, in this sense, can continue to exist forever.

But that doesn't mean you continue after death like Casper. You still need your body to think, to be fed images from which your mind abstracts Forms, and to do any thinking with those Forms (again, it's all brain-work). So your disembodied soul is not you in any sense any more than atoms that used to be in your body are you. It does mean that it's hypothetically possible for you to come back to life, if some being capable of it came along and took your Form and some matter and put them back together again. Aquinas of course believed for religious reasons that God will in fact resurrect mankind, but philosophy could only tell us that such a thing might be possible. In practice, there's nothing for neuroscience (as actual science) to disagree with, and probably not that far from any suitably non-reductionist philosophy.

BenYachov said...

I think after death your soul-form becomes part of another substance or something like that?

I don't know either Feser or Oderberg wrote it somewhere but I wasn't paying attention. I was to busy reading Modding my KOTOR2 game.

TheOFloinn said...

if all the "calculations" that go into thinking happen materially in the brain, they could in theory be reproduced in a machine, just without the act of grasping Forms themselves.

Except by Gödel's theorem not all thinking can be reduced to calculation. Any system of calculation at least as strong as first-order arithmetic will generate true sentences that cannot be calculated. That is, cannot be proven stepwise from the axioms under the rules of the system. Put another way: every such system needs information from outside the system to complete it. There is no use enlarging the system by including this source, since the enlarged system would also generate Gödel sentences. But the human mind recognizes its own Gödel sentences, which means the human mind is not reducible to computation, which means it is not reducible to a mechanically-realized computation system.

Blue Devil Knight said...

I asked:
in what sense specifically is a plant more than the underlying physicochemical organization in environmental context, evolutionary history, and other things that naturalists are happy with?

Ofloinn responded
What you may be saying is that "naturalists" are relying on formal causes without realizing they are in the mishmosh they have made of causation.

Instead of the clarity generated by using the word 'cause' to signify four different things? If they are using different language to talk about the same thing, that isn't a mishmosh.

'Formal cause' seems such a trivial notion, that of being an instance of a particular form. It seems less a cause of something, using modern language, than an explanation of what it is. Why are we calling this muscular pump with such and such properties a heart? Well, because that's what a heart is, that's the "form" of heart.

To insist on this anachronistic language is only going to keep you guys insulated from the rest of the world. If you want to actually communicate, you could easily translate this esoteric language into much simpler terms.

Or just insist that everyone else is confused when they aren't familiar with Aristotle's theory.

Then:
The difference between the plant and the rest of it is, of course, that the plant is alive. One may organize all the physicochemicals in their environmental context, but they might not bloom in your garden.

Once again you seem to be slipping into vitalism, as if life is something over and above this wonderfully organized physicochemical process.

Vincent Torley said...

Brandon,

Thank you for your thoughtful response to my query. You contend that in the case of my raising my arm, my act of will is an embodied act (involving neural processes) with a purely formal, immaterial component (the choice of a good), and that while the former presupposes the latter, the latter is not an efficient cause of the former.

My problem with this is that it seems like the metaphysical equivalent of jumping from the frying pan (dualism) into the fire (total chaos). You seem to be saying that my neural processes have NO efficient cause, but that when they happen, they are directed at some good. But what guarantees this? Why should they be? Why should they be focused at anything, if nothing makes them happen in an efficient-causal sense?

Now, you might reply that this is no more of a problem for human acts of will than for voluntary animal acts. But animals don't make genuine choices. Their neural processes have an efficient cause which determines them: things happening in their environment. Ours don't, or they wouldn't be free. In the human case, environmental inputs fail to determine output: there are always at least two choices we can make. So I ask again: what guarantees that myt arm movement matches my choice of a good - or, indeed, that it matches anything at all?

Blue Devil Knight said...

Another anon:
That is very helpful, that's the first argument I've seen that I wouldn't just find in a dozen hacky philosophy of mind books, that seems to depend in an interesting way on the Aristotelian ontology. Thank you for taking the time to write that I will need to think about it and respond later.

I'm not gonna get into the standard old stuff like Godel-Lucas (and later Penrose) arguments in detail because it is tangential to this hylemorphic view (I take it that a good response is here if anyone is interested but I'm not---just note that Ofloinn leaves out the ever-crucial aspect of consistency in Godel's proofs...also note you can't assume that because I'm a naturalist I am wedded to a computational view of mind..but I'm here to focus on hylemorphic dualism, not garden variety arguments from philosophy of mind).

Brandon said...

Hi, Vince,

I usually stop paying attention to comments threads after they hit 120 or so, so I don't know how much longer I'll be reading this one, but as to your question,

You seem to be saying that my neural processes have NO efficient cause, but that when they happen, they are directed at some good. But what guarantees this? Why should they be? Why should they be focused at anything, if nothing makes them happen in an efficient-causal sense?

I don't really understand what you are getting. Why would one think that neural processes have no efficient causes in this context? The neural processes of human animals, even in deliberately willing things, have efficient causes in exactly the same way the neural processes of non-human animals, with the one addition that there are features of some of our actions that require also appealing to the efficient cause that makes it possible for us actively to will rather than just to the specific efficient causes of specific neural processes. Perhaps you are suggesting that willing, to be free, must be without efficient causes? If so, that's not the Thomistic position. When we will something, our willing has efficient cause; it is an effect.
Whether or not the efficient causes in question determine is due to the nature of the final causes, not to a lack of an efficient cause.

Willing to raise your arm, however, is not the efficient cause of the action of deliberately raising your arm -- it is that action where there are no impediments to attaining arm-raising as an end. We could say in some sense that the subject -- which in the human cases is form and matter together and mind and body together -- is cause of the action, and we can say that the will, our capacity for intending, consenting, choosing, and using in light of good as such, is in some sense the cause of the action insofar as it is the most inclusive capability on which the action depends; this is because the subject and the will are in different ways potentialities that the action presupposes. But when you deliberately raise your arm, the will's action is not the cause> of raising your arm. The raising of your arm is the action of the will in that case. As I said to Tony above, the Thomistic will is not deistic; it is a primary cause (relative to what occurs in the action) in a Thomistic sense, not a deistic sense, and that means its actions aren't a mere flick at the beginning of the physical things we deliberately do, but are instead those very things we deliberately do.

TheOFloinn said...

as if life is something over and above this wonderfully organized physicochemical process.

Take care lest you assume that which you seek to prove.

All I did was make a purely empirical observation that insofar as the matter and the physical form are concerned, there is no difference between the live petunia and the dead. But to say that the dead petunia lacks the "physicochemical" process (whatever that is) is simply to say "It's dead" with longer words.

(And what is this "process" of which you speak? How much does it weigh? Where is it located? What is its length?)

Blue Devil Knight said...

Ofloinn I don't feel much need to disprove vitalism, so yeah I'm probably assuming it is false. I'm not the one that thinks life is something added to the complex organized whole that is a plant, so not sure what your last question is aimed at.

Blue Devil Knight said...

Another anon:
[T]he repulsion happens when you're an electron and not a

proton be-cause an electron has a negative charge (the formal cause, the electron's

being the kind of thing that it is, in this case, having a negative charge).



Me:
Then who would disagree with this? Not a criticism, if that's really all there is to being a formal cause, then I have nothing to complain about.


Another anon:
Well, I think that's the reason Aristotelian types get so exasperated at

attempted rejections that don't understand what it's really about! Of course, the

more you develop a philosophy the more room there is for disagreement, but I do think

that Aristotelian fundamentals are underestimated.


Yes, though the Aristotelians should likely make more of an effort to use less anachronistic language. Even calling it a 'cause' is to use language that is outdated. Just updating your terminology would work wonders for your credibility in the broader intellectual community.

Blue Devil Knight said...

Another Anonymous wrote:
But to actually understand something — as opposed to 'blind' calculating like a computer does — it has to be possible to "see" or "grasp" a Form directly. That's what understanding is, the direct apprehension of a Form (Idea/Ideal), and it can't be a material thing because putting a Form "in" matter is to make an object of that type (Redness + matter = red thing, etc.); so if understanding were getting the form of Redness in (say) your brain, that would just make your brain red. Instead, the Form is being grasped as an abstract, immaterial thing, so it has to be a non-material operation.

This is the very crux of the matter.

I can see it as a semi-elegent self-consistent position, so thanks for the exposition. If I bought this hylemorphic view, and the correlative theory of understanding, I can see why one might think this has some merits.

As a naturalist, of course I'd bring up the same worry I did earlier (we can have ideas that have as their content some immaterial form, but that doesn't mean the concepts themselves are immaterial rather than some broadly neural process). The word 'long' is not long, the phrase 'uttered in German' is not in German, why should grasping immaterial forms be immaterial? (And that is only granting for argument sake that forms exist, are immaterial, something of course a naturalist would deny!).

As part of a hylemorphic naturalism project, I would work to naturalize all these notions of 'forms' and understanding of forms using modern theories of conceptual content (e.g., the paper 'Conceptual Similarity across Sensory and Neural Diversity' by Paul Churchland). It would deserve to be called hylemorphic as it would preserve the form/content distinction, and indeed there are fascinating parallels between state space semantics (defined over abstract metric spaces implicitly embedded within neural networks) and the hylemorphic perspective. Has research in neural network theory discovered the 'form' of concepts themselves? And perhaps the matter of said forms, the form of the concept, is neuronal....

At any rate I know you would never go with me on this, but as a hylemorphic naturalist that's where I would go. If I were a philosopher and really wanted to expend energy on this type of thing.

But again, I can appreciate the elegance here, and if I were the type of person to get on board with extravagances such as immaterial forms, I'm sure I'd have much less of a problem taking the additional two steps: step one knowledge is grasping such forms independent of matter, and step two: therefore such understanding is itself immaterial.

Those are all arguable points, but I can at least better appreciate where Feser was coming from in the original piece.

Now anything you do to get this Idea or to use it has to go through the whole person, the composite (specifically, to go through the brain), so empirically, there's nothing to see (or not to see, in a gaps-sense). The act of intellection is a primitive, there's nothing else "going on", no immaterial "steps" or "manipulations", just a simple and fundamental reality that makes the difference between a mind and a computer.

Is the act of digestion a primitive, a fundamental reality? Not meaning to be a jerk, am seriously not sure.

Not sure why all this computer talk. For those neurocentric types like me that look at thinking as a biological process, computation never really comes up seriously (other than as a tool for simulating the brain, but we don't think such simulations are conscious any more than a simulation of a hurricane blows down houses).

TheOFloinn said...

I'm not the one that thinks life is something added to the complex organized whole that is a plant,

I'm not sure it should be regarded as "something added." Is a sphere added to the rubber to make it a basketball? It's just that without anima, the petunia would not be animate; and without sphericity, the rubber would not be a basketball.

Blue Devil Knight said...

OK so we agree, except that I don't think forms are immaterial, and I don't call them forms.

:)

Vincent Torley said...

Hi Brandon,

Thanks very much for your kind response. I'll try one more time to clarify my question. What I was suggesting is that if willing is to be free, it must have no determining efficient cause. (I don't object to a non-determining efficient cause.) For human beings, environmental inputs under-determine the output that follows (bodily movements). So at some point there is a juncture. Imagine for simplicity's sake that the movement of a single neuron initiates the cascade of processes that result in my arm's going up. At the juncture, the neuron could go this way or that. It goes in the direction that accords with the good I choose. The material movement of the neuron matches my choice, which is purely formal. That's a non-trivial fact. There seem to be only three ways to account for it: (i) the formal act (choice) somehow determines the movement of the neuron; (ii) the neuron's movement determines my choice; (iii) the two acts occur in parallel and neither determines the other, but something outside determines that they accord with one another. The first option is dualism; the second is materialism; and the third is Leibniz's pre-established harmony, where God guarantees that my mind and my body operate in tandem.

You seem to be suggesting a variant of (i), whereby the neuron goes the right way BECAUSE I chose to raise my arm - where "because" is understood in a finalistic sense, rather than an efficient causal sense. But neurons don't respond to reasons, any more than storm clouds do. Neurons need to be pushed, one way or the other, when they reach a juncture. And if I can't push my neurons around when they need to be pushed, then I will be in a sorry state indeed.

Brandon said...

Hi, Vince,

Of course neurons respond to reasons, and in a fairly straightforward sense. How else do you think you would manage to do physical things freely? Storm clouds don't respond to reasons because they don't belong to a subject of rational nature, and thus are not informed in any way by reason. But neurons very clearly do respond to reasons: if I give you reasons to do something, your neurons will respond, because they are a real and contributing material part of how you respond to reasons. On the Thomistic view, it's just that they are only a contributing part. We don't need to 'push our neurons around' -- we just consent and choose and apply and in human beings that can involve operations of the brain like neurons firing, even though consent and choice and application, being operations of a purely formal power, don't reduce to such material operations. The will is not a capability on par with other capabilities, that it needs to push them as an extrinsic mover; it is a capability whose acts by their very nature can encompass the acts of other capabilities as parts. Human beings are not Cartesian minds pushing around animal spirits, or, in modern parlance, triggering electrochemical reactions as if it were, in Ed's phrase, a ghostly billiard ball knocking a non-ghostly billiard ball in a given direction, or as if it were a sailor steering a ship; we are more integrated than that, and those electrochemical reactions are themselves part of what we willingly do and how we react to things like reasons.

E.R. Bourne said...

BDK, you have posed several good questions so far, but I think that it is wise to proceed cautiously when discussing these issues. This discussion, like all internet exchanges, has started halfway through instead of at the beginning and, of itself, it will never provide you with the thorough and correct understanding that you seem to earnestly seek. As long as the conversation begins in the middle, the philosophical principles involved will appear to be mere ad hoc justifications, which they are not.

For Aristotle, the matter/form distinction is a subset of the potency/act distinction. Matter, of itself, is indeterminate. It is that out of which something is made, yet without form it is only potentially something and not actually anything. This is why Ed's holistic and anti-reductionist stance is so critical, without each principle being present we simply do not have a material substance. Since matter is of itself only in potency to some form, to speak of material things as only material is the same as saying that they are only in potency and thus not actually existing.

In fact, form is more critical to nature than matter. We implicitly acknowledge this in our language. This is true even when we speak of artifacts. We say 'plane' or 'chair' without any reference to the matter out of which these things are made and yet we convey actual knowledge about these things. Obviously, we are not totally indifferent to matter, after all, potency does limit act, but still, matter terminates in some form, and so we speak of things in this formal way because potency/matter can only be brought to perfection or completion in some act/form.

This is also and especially true of natural things. Aristotle uses the example of the tree. We say that the tree grows or is growing. In other words, we refer to the end, act, and form of the process of change even though the process has not yet been brought to completion. We have to reference the end or act of the process because it is that end which makes the process actual and intelligible.

This is not only to say that naturalizing form is incoherent (if that means reducing form to matter) but, if anything, matter is for the sake of form. All potencies are potentially something, meaning that they are in potency with respect to some act or form.

Vincent Torley said...

Hi Brandon,

Thank you very much for your explanation. I'm intrigued by this comment of yours:

"We don't need to 'push our neurons around' -- we just consent and choose and apply and in human beings that can involve operations of the brain like neurons firing, even though consent and choice and application, being operations of a purely formal power, don't reduce to such material operations. The will is not a capability on par with other capabilities, that it needs to push them as an extrinsic mover; it is a capability whose acts by their very nature can encompass the acts of other capabilities as parts."

I can see that this would be a very appealing view, as it dissolves the interaction problem, but I'm puzzled as to how a formal act can encompass and include a material act. (Incidentally, where does Aquinas say this? I've always read him quite differently.)

Additionally, how does a formal act like choosing to raise my arm determine the specific neuronal movements which cause it to rise? (Is there a problem of causal under-determination?)

Finally, does my act of choosing to raise my arm encompass the whole physical sequence of events that occur when my arm goes up, or only the initial sequence of events, in the brain? (I'm thinking about paralysis here.)

Mr. Green said...

Brandon: ...we are more integrated than that, and those electrochemical reactions are themselves part of what we willingly do and how we react to things like reasons.

Sure, but the problem is that if we're too integrated, we won't have room for freedom. Integrity of the body-soul unit(y) means that there's no outside force (that is, no efficient cause outside of the material realm) that is "pushing our neurons". But integrity of physics, that is, the deterministic sequence of efficient causes, means that our actions were predetermined long before our intellect (working as a whole person) could lead our will (working as a whole person). I don't think the Mediaevals really addressed this problem exactly because they never had the notion of a fixed, deterministic set of natural laws. But we do, and if the physical sequence of efficient causes is independent of the rational sequence of understanding and choosing, then why can't they come into conflict at some point? There are four possibilities:

1) one sequence needs to be able to "manipulate" the other, that is, our minds somehow exercise freedom "against" a chain of physical causation; our free will has to be able to "push" our neurons from the outside. Yes, of course from the perspective of the human being as a holistic whole, it's all one integrated action. But from the perspective of a physicist tracing the motion of particles, some outside force is coming into play.

2) the two sequences are independent, but they happen to line up with each other, i.e. pre-established harmony or occasionalism of some sort. This is in some ways the neatest solution, elegantly integrating the physics and metaphysics and God's providence as well. But I believe that it is not a Thomistic solution.

3) the sequences are not independent, and there is simple integrity between efficient causality in our brain and our will because freely willed actions are part of the efficiently causal chain — just as they're part of the formally/materially/finally-causal chain; in fact it's all just one unified, holistic sequence. The problem is that this is not good enough for moral freedom. It is "free" in the sense that nothing is restricting me from the outside, but it also means I'm not morally responsible. My will is led by my intellect, and my intellect is led by my experiences. If I misunderstand something, I will act wrongly, but I'm not morally responsible because I didn't know any better. I'm like a robot that "freely" follows its programming. How can we escape the Platonic conclusion that all wrong-doing is the result of error, rather than sin?

4) the Great Quantum Mechanical Cop-Out: we've been assuming that physics is completely deterministic, but of course your every action cannot be predicted from the motion of particles before you were born, because there is no such thing as perfect knowledge of the state of every particle. QM tells us that that is impossible not merely in practice, but even in theory. But because physics under-determines our neural motions, that allows for free-will to pick up the slack. Most importantly, on this view, our wills are not "manipulating" particles from the outside; rather, how the particles behave is entirely according to their natures, it's just that in this case our wills are part of the natural event. (In fact, perhaps the very reason God invented physics that doesn't go all the way down is precisely to leave some breathing-room for free will.)

Anonymous said...

^Thanks for that four-pronged exposition, Mr. Green. That was really helpful. I'm inclined towards (1) and (4). The trouble for me is, if something like either 1 and 4 is true, how is the Thomistic soul any different from the Cartesian soul in the way that it interacts with physical reality? I think that a compare/contrast effort under the assumption that something resembling 1 and 4 is true would be helpful here.

Blue Devil Knight said...

ER Bourne, thanks I will have to mull that over after work today as it is substantive and will need to think about it.

Brandon said...

Hi, Vince,

Lots of issues, so to keep it succinct:

(1) The characterization follows from how Aquinas speaks of usus; the will moves other powers as its instrumental causes, and even in cases of instrumental causes where the instrument is absolutely separate from the principal cause (which is not the case here because they both belong to one subject) the actions of the instrumental cause, qua instrument, are part of the action fo the principal cause. Another way to say exactly the same thing from the other direction would be to say that the lower powers participate the activities of will.

(2) I don't understand what you mean by "I'm puzzled as to how a formal act can encompass and include a material act." All material acts are formal acts. They just aren't purely formal. Thus there is no absolute division between the two kinds of acts. Likewise, there's no particular reason why an action of will can't be purely formal in some respect and not purely formal in another.

(3) We need to distinguish between talking of the will as a purely formal power and talking of the will's actions as purely formal acts; 'purely formal' in the previous sense only means the property required of the capability to perform the full range of its actions, but it means something different in the second case, i.e., that matter is not involved in the activity. Deliberately raising your arm is not a purely formal action; indeed, if we were to claim it were so we would be contradicting ourselves: raising your arm is not a purely formal action, so deliberately doing it is not going to make it so.

(4) Asking how the formal act determines the specific neuronal activities is either again treating the neuronal activities as something that needs to be pushed, or is a trivial question, since the only other answer is that the formal activity formally determines them, making them the kinds of activities they are, namely, the sorts of activities capable of being part of the process of deliberately raising one's arm. They are all material features of an act that has the formal character of being the act of deliberately raising one's arm. So I'm not really sure what you mean.

(5) Cases like paralysis are simply due to the well-known fact that bodies are publically available, and thus subject to all sorts of causes besides the will, and to the equally well-known fact that bodies are material, and thus capable of failure in their activities due to improper disposition. That we are able to move the body willingly does not mean that we are able to do anything we wish with regard to it; indeed, this is not true even of the will itself, since the will's own movement presupposes things over which the will has no control (the initial tendency to the good as such, for instance). For the same reason the act of will does not cover everything that happens in the process: obviously there are things involved that aren't even indirectly intentional or deliberate. Since, despite the importance of my brain in most everything, I am not merely my brain, it doesn't make sense to restrict the will to the brain; this would also massively wreak havoc with the character of our actions, since confining the scope of the will to the brain would mean that the only thing we could directly be considered responsible for are brain processes.

Brandon said...

Mr. Green,

(1) Physics does not require a deterministic sequence of efficient causes; at least, one can do all of the physics we know without once assuming that every 'sequence of efficient causes' is really and truly deterministic. Moreover, in no era of physics has it really been the case that everything physical needed to be seen as happening deterministically; even Newtonian physics interpreted in a realist way allowed for certain kinds of indeterminism. And 'determinism' as it is used in physics today is a feature of models; the most that can really be said today is that certain physical processes are well-modeled by deterministic models. The medievals did recognize deterministic cases; as they rightly saw, though, if you are not saying that the determination involved is one that depends simply on something like the necessity of noncontradiction you are actually making a claim that the final causes that determine the efficient cause to act the way it does are determining it to one and only one effect. And then one can only really conclude that the system is deterministic to the extent you have reason to think that this is the case.

(2) The physical 'sequence' of efficient causes is not independent of the rational 'sequence' of understanding and choosing; at least, saying this requires at minimum a claim of full substance dualism. There are, however, problems with accepting claims of substance dualism. And of course in actions like deliberately raising my arm, the 'sequences' could not possibly be completely independent even on the supposition of substance dualism.

(3) Talk in terms of sequences is problematic here, in any case; you can only actually have a sequence of definitely distinct elements. I'm not sure why we would assume this to apply to everything that goes into raising one's arm deliberately.

(4) Given (1) and (2) there is no particular reason to think that the integrity of body and soul results in any of the four possibilities you list.

(5) Your #3 in any case doesn't seem to follow from its suppositions. From the nonindependence of the 'sequences' all that would follow is that we don't have completely unrestricted freedom over the body, nor moral responsibility admitting of no qualification, both of which are actually quite right.

Blue Devil Knight said...

In fact, form is more critical to nature than matter. We implicitly acknowledge this in our language. This is true even when we speak of artifacts. We say 'plane' or 'chair' without any reference to the matter out of which these things are made and yet we convey actual knowledge about these things.

OK, this is fine for me. I'd be just as happy to say that we have the concepts of plane/chair and express the content without specifying the 'matter' or implementation, but no big deal I can play along with this forms talk.

Obviously, we are not totally indifferent to matter

I'd rather have a gold nugget than a turd nugget.

after all, potency does limit act, but still, matter terminates in some form, and so we speak of things in this formal way because potency/matter can only be brought to perfection or completion in some act/form. This is also and especially true of natural things. Aristotle uses the example of the tree. We say that the tree grows or is growing. In other words, we refer to the end, act, and form of the process of change even though the process has not yet been brought to completion. We have to reference the end or act of the process because it is that end which makes the process actual and intelligible.

Again, not sure of all this 'completion' and 'perfection' talk but I'm OK with this in theory. This acorn is a potential red oak or whatever, and this language simply is to point out the typical mature state of the acorn. We could be wrong about it (it might actually be an acorn from a white oak tree).

This is not only to say that naturalizing form is incoherent (if that means reducing form to matter) but, if anything, matter is for the sake of form. All potencies are potentially something, meaning that they are in potency with respect to some act or form.

I wouldn't want to say naturalizing form is to reduce form to matter, necessarily. That would seem to go against the hylemorphic philosophy. I would want to argue that forms are concepts about types or abstracta (old school would have said nominalism but there are other nonrealist options). So naturalizing forms would entail naturalizing abstract conceptual thought, and also giving a hylemorphic naturalist epistemology of forms, how understanding is the application of forms to experience (sort of Kantian, really, like his concepts of the understanding applied to the intuitive spatiotemporal content provided in perception).

Formal cause in this sense is simply applying the concepts (forms) to the things we see in the world. I see a Robin and know it is a Robin because it satisfies some essential Robin characteristics.

Anonymous said...

It's all consistent with a naturalistic view of the universe.

Sure. So are outright rejections of materialism, embracing of panpsychism, of dualism, platonism, strong emergence and more.

Because a "naturalistic view of the universe" has been updated, redefined, and tweaked so many times it's become mush.

Vincent Torley said...

Brandon,

You've been very helpful in answering my queries. I'll try to sharpen my focus. I have always believed that Cartesian dualists think of mind and body as two distinct entities interacting with each other, whereas Thomists think of man as a single entity, but with both bodily and non-bodily capacities - the latter being intellect and will. An act of will (or choice, if you prefer) is a purely formal act, which is no more physical than the fact that two and two make four.

You seem to want to say that a purely formal, non-bodily act (such as my choosing to raise my arm now) can somehow "subsume" the neuronal firings which make my arm go up. But I am at a loss to see how something totally immaterial can subsume something material. For instance, there is nothing in the description of the purely formal act of my choosing to raise my arm which contains any implications regarding my neurons (whose existence I might not even be aware of, if I know nothing about anatomy) or even the state of my arm (I might decide to raise my arm and fail to do so, because of a stroke I've had during the night). Additionally, two individuals can both simultaneously perform the same purely formal act of choosing to raise their arms, but the way in which their identical acts of will are realized on a physical level may be strikingly different, because their nerves and their arms are not constituted in the same manner. So the subsumption metaphor doesn't seem to work. My purely formal choice to raise my arm doesn't magically include the physical activities required to make my arm go up.

Another metaphor you use is that of the principal cause and its instrument. You emphasize that the will and the soul's lower powers (e.g. locomotion) belong to the same subject, but you regard the latter powers as the instrument of the will. Now this is a metaphor I can understand. But in that case, you would have to say that my will is the efficient cause of my body's movements, when I move voluntarily. It cannot be merely a final cause - for if it were, then my body wouldn't be its instrument. (When an animal approaches a tree, attracted by its fruit, we don't say that the animal is an instrument of the fruit it seeks as its goal.) Nor can it merely be the formal cause - that being simply my arm's going up. If the will, then, acts as an efficient cause, then my non-physical acts of will must be capable of changing my body - in particular, making my neurons move. And that is a kind of interactionism, albeit less radical than Descartes'.

Finally, you write that "there's no particular reason why an action of will can't be purely formal in some respect and not purely formal in another." I'm afraid I find this unintelligible. Either an act is purely formal or it isn't. You can't have it both ways, without rendering the principle of non-contradiction vacuous. Faced with any contradiction ("Smith is in New York" and "Smith is in London") I might say, "Well, they're both true: he's in New York in one way, and in London in another." Where, I ask, is the difference?

Blue Devil Knight said...

Anon you love to hit that one note eh lol...enjoy

Anonymous said...

Anon you love to hit that one note eh lol...enjoy

It's an extremely effective and telling note. And it's always matched to the note of "...all consistent with a naturalistic view of the universe." and like claims.

I should try that in a class. "You wrote down that 2+2=5 anon. That's incorrect." "Yeah yeah yeah. You math teachers always harp on that one endlessly."

Blue Devil Knight said...

Just because different people mean different things by the term 'naturalism' doesn't mean I mean those things. If you asked me what I meant I'd tell you, but you seem to like to preen so I won't bother. lol

At any rate, was an interesting comment thread now we seem to have hit the detritus stage. Thanks for those that engaged with relevant, authentic attempts to grapple with the issues. Seem a lot of good people at this blog.

Anonymous said...

Just because different people mean different things by the term 'naturalism' doesn't mean I mean those things. If you asked me what I meant I'd tell you, but you seem to like to preen so I won't bother. lol

You and others were asked previously at another blog. I recall you essentially conceded that naturalism was hard to pin down, had no clear and non-controversial definition... but still you throw the term around as if it had more meaning than that. And I'm the bad guy for pointing out the problems with the word, especially in its modern state?

You didn't dispute that naturalism, certainly nowadays, is compatible with "outright rejections of materialism, embracing of panpsychism, of dualism, platonism, strong emergence and more." And it's in this light that it should be considered whether hylemorphism or hylemorphic dualism is "compatible with naturalism". Sure it is. The "naturalization process" can be "forms, final causes, and even certain kinds of non-material operations are called natural now". Also, immaterial is material 2.0.

But still, label a brief, non-insulting and pertinent comment as "detritus". It says a lot.

Vincent Torley said...

Brandon,

Thanks very much for your response. I'll keep my comments brief. You seem to be using two metaphors for the relation between an act of will and the bodiy movements which realize it, in your response: first, that of encompassing (or subsuming) and second, that of moving an instrument. I put it to you that these metaphors can't both be right.

My problem is that a choice (e.g. the choice to raise my arm now) is a purely formal act, since (like an act of understanding) it is not the act of any bodily organ. By definition, a purely formal act, being immaterial, cannot encompass bodily movements, which are realized in matter. Specifically, it cannot "include" neuronal firings, as I might not be aware that I even have any neurons to fire (if I know nothing about anatomy).

You write that an act of will can be purely formal in one respect, and not purely formal in another. I have to say that I find this utterly unintelligible. Either an act is purely formal or it's not. There is no middle ground.

Finally, you propose that the lower powers of the soul (e.g. locomotion) are under the instrumental control of the will, even though both powers belong to the same subject. Fair enough. But then we are back with some form of interactionism again: my choices (which are purely formal) somehow determine which way my neurons move.

You appear to suggest that this "determination" is purely formal, rather than efficient-causal. I have to say that I don't see how it can be. The "form" here is simply the result (my arm's going up in response to my will), so to say that the form determines the neuronal firings is like saying that my arm's going up determines the neuronal firings required to make it go up. That sounds back to front to me. Maybe I'm misunderstanding you.

Anyway, it really does seem to me that for my act of will to be causally efficacious, at some point, my act of will has to interact with my neurons and alter their course, via some form of top-down efficient causation, which nevertheless operates within the constraints of natural law (energy conservation, etc).

Blue Devil Knight said...

Anon said:
You didn't dispute that naturalism, certainly nowadays, is compatible with "outright rejections of materialism, embracing of panpsychism, of dualism, platonism, strong emergence and more."

I wouldn't dispute that some people might use the term that way (though they would be outside of the mainstream use of the term), but I certainly am not using it that way (though strong emergence isn't necessarily well defined enough for me to say whether I'd reject it).

At any rate, you are right this has been hashed over elsewhere and it is barely tangential to the topic of this thread.

What is more important than such terminological quibbles is one's actual position on the substantive issues. I think that concepts in normal humans are ultimately neuronal processes constructed via a history of interaction with an environment. If you want to call that naturalistic, or not, I frankly don't care. I'm more interested in substantive argument about the thesis.

But that would take this thread well beyond my attempt to get a sympathetic understanding of hylemorphic dualism: 'Another Anonymous' has already done a great job with that. I figure for more I'll go to one of Feser's books.

Incidentally, which of Feser's books would be the best to get a detailed exposition of hylemorphism, in addition to hylemorphic dualism?

Blue Devil Knight said...

What is more important than such terminological quibbles is one's actual position on the substantive issues.

This is something the Aristotle sympathizers might also be more cognizant of. Deriding someone for using the word 'cause' in a way inconsistent with Aristotle, when you don't actually know what they think about the issues that are actually relevant (outside of the terminological details) is to seal yourselves off from the wider intellectual community which uses a different terminology.

Sure, you could say Aristotle was here first, that they should be vigilant and learn more about the history. Or you could be the one to do the work to integrate his idiosyncratic terminology into something more mainstream.

Philosophers love to argue about words, that's for sure.

BenYachov said...

>Deriding someone for using the word 'cause' in a way inconsistent with Aristotle, when you don't actually know what they think about the issues that are actually relevant (outside of the terminological details) is to seal yourselves off from the wider intellectual community which uses a different terminology.

I treply: The only remedy to the above is simplicity itself. To quote Karl Keating "Never argue to win. Argue to explain".

Blue Devil Knight said...

BenYachov that's something the blogosphere could use more of. I would add 'and to learn'. The excessive explainer ends up coming off as a pendant.

BenYachov said...

>Incidentally, which of Feser's books would be the best to get a detailed exposition of hylemorphism, in addition to hylemorphic dualism?

Start with TLS, then go on to "Philosophy of the Mind"* then end with "Aquinas. Oderberg's REAL ESSENTALISM is a bonus.

One must learn hylemorphism in general. One must start at the begining not the middle.

Of course dualism for a post enlightenment Mechanist philosophy is understood as belief in some type of preternatural ghost matter that lives in the invisible world next to matter. After reading Feser I'm convinced Cartesian philosophy is just materialism + magical materials
nothing more and I reject materialism.

A hylemorphic might understand the "dualist" idea differently.

Anyway happy reading guy.

Blue Devil Knight said...

Ben no way I will read all that. Even one book is unlikely given how little free time I have (blog presence notwithstanding...ahem). What one would be best do you think?

BenYachov said...

>Ben no way I will read all that. Even one book is unlikely given how little free time I have (blog presence notwithstanding...ahem). What one would be best do you think?

Maybe TLS by itself will wet your whistle to learn more?

It got me started and lead me to other books on Aristotle which I am still reading in bits.

OTOH you have baring some, God forbid, horrific accident a lifetime to read them all if you are so inclined.

It's up to you guy. Cheers!

Rome wasn't built in a day. Neither is learning Classic Philosophy vs Modern.

BenYachov said...

Some advice on how to read the TLS.

1. Ignore the conservative politics. I learned a lot from reading Eric Reitan's criticism of Dawkins even thought I rejected his liberal politics and Process Theology.

2. The major theme of the book is the radical break between the views of classic philosophy vs modern philosophy and the false claim of the moderns that the classical view has been overthrown(in the sense of being rationally refuted). This is all related to the Existence of God but ironically that theme IMHO is merely accidental to the book.

3. Read the footnotes and not just the chapters they have much of the real meat of the book.

Remember the book is as much a polemic against modern Mechanistic philosophy as it is "a defense of God".

I hope this helps.

Blue Devil Knight said...

I'm not particularly into the "new" atheists, you're saying that a book devoted to undermining them is a good intro to hylemorphic philosophy, better than his Aquinas or his philmind book? It will detail and justify act/potency, form/matter type ontology and epistemology?

Blue Devil Knight said...

I wrote:
The excessive explainer ends up coming off as a pendant.

:) While maybe a good metaphor, take out the first 'n' in 'pendant.'

Lamont said...

Vincent and Brandon,

Our brains and our whole neurological system are similar to a computer on standby. Sometimes my old PC will just turn on by itself. It is enough to make you think there is a ghost in the machine. What I think is actually happening is that quantum fluctuations in the standby current trip the micro-switch that brings the computer back to full power. Maybe there is some other explanation but it does not matter.

Even when our neurons are not firing there is always a minimal level of electrical activity. When a neuron fires it is because of the molecules that drop into the synaptic gap closing the circuit and stimulating the neural impulse. A twitch is simply an instance of a quantum fluctuation in electrical activity in a neuron randomly spilling a few molecules, which results in a chain reaction ending in a muscle contraction.

Why is this important? It is because the whole system is always primed to go off, so much so that a macroscopic efficient cause is not necessary to produce movement. A quantum fluctuation at the molecular level is sufficient.

In animals coordinated movement is the result of one impulse leading to another. The chain of efficient causality brings order to the whole system. That is why animal behavior is determined and not free.

In humans, an act of the will is a formal cause that changes the field energy surrounding the neural-transmitters, which drop to produce the desired action. In other words the wave harmonics surrounding the molecules in your neurons can be shifted to produces a trough where a crest was such that when the molecule vibrates it drops into the trough and falls into the synaptic gap. Hence, an immaterial act of your soul can produce physical changes even though it not part of a chain of efficient causality.

Once you understand the mechanism, then you can integrate it metaphysically with a holistic account of the human person. When you separate things in order to understand them it does not mean that they are separate in reality. There is no platonic or Cartesian dualism here or in any of my other comments.

BenYachov said...

>I'm not particularly into the "new" atheists, you're saying that a book devoted to undermining them is a good intro to hylemorphic philosophy,?

It's the first I read so I am going by my subjective experience and yes it is a good introduction to hylemorphic philosophy. The entertaining pounding of the New Atheists is merely gravy. But then again pounding Fundies in general is funny wither they believe in gods or not.

>better than his Aquinas or his philmind book? It will detail and justify act/potency, form/matter type ontology and epistemology?

Try it or not. It's up to you. But if you want something more advanced and more secular maybe REAL ESSENTALISM is for you?

Your choice. In order to travel 10,000 miles you must take a first step.

BenYachov said...

Of course Feser smacks the ID crowd as well.

Blue Devil Knight said...

Real essentialism looks more my cup of tea.

Blue Devil Knight said...

I just added it to my wish list in case there are any generous wealthy folks out there. :)

Anonymous said...

If you want to call that naturalistic, or not, I frankly don't care. I'm more interested in substantive argument about the thesis.

As Ben quoted, "Never argue to win. Argue to explain." If you're approaching the topic with the idea in mind that you must either slap the naturalistic label on the whole thing or reject it because it isn't naturalistic, alright. Just say outright, "I'm committed to naturalism no matter what, and it's with that in mind that I will try to learn about and understand this idea." It saves everyone time, yourself included.

Blue Devil Knight said...

Anon I explained my position, and if you don't want to count as naturalistic a theory with neuronal process supervenience as its core hypothesis, then fine. You are free to use words in deviant ways as long as you are clear. Don't really care, you can call it 'theistic' if you want, or 'aurora borealis.' It won't affect the substance.

Anonymous said...

Anon I explained my position, and if you don't want to count as naturalistic a theory with neuronal process supervenience as its core hypothesis, then fine.

I didn't bother disputing your personal views, because they are (by your own admission, on the subject of hylemorphism) largely unformed anyway. Even proclaimed diehard naturalists/materialists often, upon closer inspection, sneak in through the back door what they were supposed to explain away or reduce, so merely saying "I sure am a total naturalist!" isn't enough to convince me someone is, in fact, that. I contented myself with pointing out that 'All this (hylemorphism) is compatible with naturalism' is hilariously empty.

I added that if you're trying to learn about hylemorphism, maybe it isn't a good idea to walk into the study while trying to either slap a "naturalism!" label on it, or reject it if you don't feel comfortable doing that. Or, at least if that's going to be your approach, just say "I am committed to naturalism come hell or highwater. I am not open to changing my mind on this subject. I just want to learn about hylemorphism and Aristotileanism in order to either absorb it or fight it." Like I said, it saves everyone time, yourself included.

You are free to use words in deviant ways as long as you are clear.

I think my pointing out the lack of clarity in "naturalism" in common parlance is very clear. If you want to fall back to "but I use a proprietary BDK-brand definition", I'll shrug my shoulders. Insisting the formless has form is just as deviant, you know.

Anonymous said...

potency/potentiality can certainly be questioned, along with Ari's primitive concept of matter. Actually it sounds like early probability. Things ...fall apart. The matter is altered--so one might say it's contingent. Yet how does the scholastic go from contingency (as in....temporary, or transient, etc) to ...dependency??? Via mysteria mostly. That X--a building, or computer, or person--is, in a sense contingent doesn't mean there's a Being in charge of that contingency--nature is--ie, decay, gravity, the 2nd law of thermodynamics.

The old priests preyed on the peasants' fear of...well everything (death, first and foremost)--and most of the talk concerning potency/potentiality/contingency falls in that class.



re--Hylemorphic dualism

where does the heavenly Form ...like, exist? In the matter itself--all over, or just a part? So the Human form exists throughout the human (hmm...sounds a bit like DNA). And the Locust form...percolates throughout all the cells of the Locust..

The Aristotelian theist would seem to be required to say...the ...thinking Substance itself exists apart from the matter (and thus....it is Cartesian/platonic, of some sort). Else Aristotle's hardly different than....polytheism, or animism of some type.

BenYachov said...

BDK,

The soft cover addition of RE is way more cheaper then the hardcover which is...criminal.

I mean it's a great book but I can not afford a HC version for over 100 bucks or more.

Go softcover.

BenYachov said...

Anonymous,

I am skeptical hylemorphism can be mated with naturalism too. But I think BDK should learn that on his own if that's the case.

In my experience he is a smart guy(I suspect smarter than me & my ego rarely allows me to admit that out loud)so he will figure that out.

So relax.

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